A day before Xilpi Diwas — or what is celebrated as “artiste’s day” in Assam — 61-year-old Nuruddin Ahmed officially became the man who made the world’s tallest idol of Hindu goddess Durga, endorsed by the Limca Book of Records.
Ahmed, who hails from Guwahati’s Kahilipara area, had built a 98-feet-tall idol out of bamboo during Durga Puja in September 2017 at a pandal in Bishnupur, Guwahati — a feat that had grabbed plenty of attention even then. “While most people appreciated my work and did not disturb me, some would often ask me if my ‘dharma’ conflicted with my work,” says Ahmed. “But where does religion come into the picture? Xilpi’r kunu dharma nai (Artistes do not have any religion).”
Forty people — of various faiths, including Hindus and Muslims — worked together in September 2017 to build the gargantuan idol that nearly a lakh flocked to Bishnupur to see. Made completely out of baah (bamboo), a material found in abundance through Assam, Ahmed’s Durga idol was built in seven days flat.
“We had actually taken forty days to build it — it was ready by September 17. However, a big storm destroyed it a week before Durga Puja and we had to rebuild from scratch,” says Ahmed. The five-day festival is one of the most important in eastern India, especially in West Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Tripura and marked by elaborate pandals made under artistic supervision.
Ahmed is also involved in the art direction of the biggest pandals in Guwahati including the ones at the Rehabari and Bharalamukh localities. “I used bamboo for the idol because the material is intrinsic to Assam and the Assamese people — I wanted to promote it,” he says.
Ahmed received the letter from the Limca authorities last month but went public with the news on his Facebook account only on Wednesday, once he had received the hardbound copy of the Limca Book Records 2019. In the book, under the section, “Statues and Idols”, Ahmed’s Durga idol shares space with the largest Nandi, Shivalinga, Hanuman statue, Buddha statue etc. “We used cotton only for the ropes — rest of it was all bamboo,” says Ahmed, who has also been involved with the Bhramyaman (mobile or travelling) theatre groups of Assam as an art director for the last 29 years.
“I do work for mandirs and pujas, xattras (monastic orders of 16th centure poet-saint Sankardeva) and naamghars, as well as masjids,” says Ahmed, who also happened to turn 61 today. As is the norm, the pandal in Bishnupur was dismantled on the last day of Durga Puja in September 2017 — however, because of “public demand”, Ahmed’s idol was up for an extended week.