My name is Uma Sanasaryan. I’m a Los Angeles based Emmy winning documentary editor and artist. For the last ten years I’ve been fortunate enough to sculpt the image of the Hindu Goddess Kali for the annual fall festival at the Vedanta Society of Southern California in Hollywood. This annual sacred sculpting tradition has taken place uninterrupted for the last 70 years. In my film "Imagemakers" I tell the story behind this unique tradition and explore its deep and ancient roots in India.
In Hindu scripture and folklore, Kali or the black one, is most often described as naked, with only a few characteristic ornaments: a necklace of freshly cut heads, a girdle of severed arms, and a brandished sword ready to slay demons. With her long flowing black hair and a protruded tongue, Kali wildly dances on top of her inert husband Shiva in battlefields and cremation grounds amid the horrors of war and death. Despite her frightening symbolism, Kali is seen as a compassionate Divine Mother, who fiercely protects her devotees and "licks" their wounds with unconditional love. To express their love and gratitude, Kali's devotees celebrate her by performing an annual ancient ritual or puja. In this ritual the worshipper awakens the freshly sculpted image of Kali by breathing life into the sculpture using sacred sounds, hand movements and meditation. At this moment Kali is no longer a piece of clay or plaster or stone. She is now alive. Kali is fed, bathed, fussed over and adored like a bride on the eve of her wedding. Devotees offer ecstatic music, dance and a delicious feast. At the end of the celebration the worshipper ritualistically takes Kali's life back and she is submerged in a large body of water such as the ocean or a river, thus symbolizing the full cycle of birth, life and death.
Kali's powerful iconography has captured my imagination for most of my adolescent and adult life. Reading the Devi Mahatmyam as a fifteen year-old, I imagined a superhero Goddess jumping from the pages of an uncensored comic book, slaying demons and charging fearlessly through war and suffering. Now in my forties, I am still inspired by Kali’s power.
When the Vedanta Society asked me to sculpt Kali for the annual festival, I felt honored to follow in the footsteps of many LA artists before me and create her for the Los Angeles based Hindu community. For reference I was given vintage photographs of sculptures of Kalis dating back to 1948. I was inspired by the beautiful images and decided to make a film focusing on the history of the temple and my personal experiences of sculpting Kali. But as I got deeper into the story I realized that to do justice to this sacred tradition, I had to go to India and start from the beginning.
This fall I will travel to Kolkata and film in Kumortuli: a small neighborhood where generations of artists make and sell thousands of Kalis and other Hindu deities. I will meet some of these imagemakers and learn about their sculpting techniques and materials. I’ll film their process of sculpting one of the Kalis and follow her from the time she is just a lump of clay to when she is purchased and transported to her site of worship and to the boat from where she is submerged in the Ganges.
Please contribute to my Indiegogo campaign and help me finance my trip to India. You can also make a tax-deductible contribution to my film through my fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions. If you’d like to help with the production of the film or have any questions, please email me.