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Originally published Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 7:02 PM

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India's artisans endure, highly sought and in obscurity

Although India's tech-savvy middle class is burgeoning, the hand labor of the artisans, many mired in poverty, endures.

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IN INDIA, artisans are everywhere. They labor in shacks jammed along teeming alleys in India's sprawling cities. They toil along roadsides in open-fronted sheds, shrouded in traffic fumes as they create everything from cooking pots to religious statues.

Although India's tech-savvy middle class is burgeoning, the hand labor of the artisans, many mired in poverty, endures.

In the chaotic city of Kolkata (also known as Calcutta), the Kumartoli neighborhood has been a pottery and clay-working center since the 1800s. In a warren of workshops, men, and some women, shape clay from riverbanks into statues of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Some Kumartoli artisans are well-known and their work is sought by the Hindu faithful in India and abroad; others toil in hand-to-mouth obscurity. Indian tourists and shoppers and a scattering of foreigners walk through the dilapidated neighborhood, peering into workshops.

In one dark, crowded Kumartoli workshop, two men finish statues of the powerful goddess Durga — the mother of the universe whose multiple arms symbolize her protective powers. Perhaps one of her powers is to help lift her image-makers out of poverty.

Kristin R. Jackson is the editor of The Seattle Times' NWTraveler section. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.

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