Making eco-friendly idols

The use of plaster of Paris to make Ganesh idols has polluted water bodies over the years and civic bodies have restricted the use of plaster of Paris and synthetic paints. If you feel strongly about the issue, you may be an element of change. Celebrating an eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi is easy. Eco-Exist is an NGO based in Pune that has been making green Ganesha idols for the past six years. You may place an order online at or approach one of their outlets in Bangalore or Hyderabad to get idols parcelled.

Says Lolita Gupta, the trade consultant for Eco-Exist, “Most of our idols are clay-made, apart from few designs in paper mache. We source these from artisans from Pen and Uran villages in interior Maharashtra. And for the colouring, we use only turmeric, red ochre (gheru or chemman) and multani mitti. For the finishing touches, we use minimum water colour.”

One can find idols 6 inches to 23 inches high. “This year, we have got a special collection from Shirsi village in Karnataka. Idols from Shirsi are known for their sharp features,” says Lolita. “We also identify talented and poor artisans and help their design reach global clients. Currently, we are promoting the idols of a poor school boy in Pune who makes simple and beautiful Ganeshas.” Clay idols from Eco-Exist range from Rs. 800 to Rs. 2500 and the paper mache varieties are Rs. 450 to Rs. 3200. For further enquires, call 09960834066

If you are looking for a customized Ganesha, try making it yourself. Apart from the traditional Pillayar made of turmeric, cow dung or rice flour, the current fad is origami Pillayar. Himanshu is an origami expert based in Mumbai and has been making paper Ganeshas since last year. “I have invented two types of Ganesha in origami. It’s a good art piece and one can also use it for puja purpose,” he says. “Though there are not many takers now, origami Ganeshas are apt eco-friendly options.”

Websites that offer instructions with drawings include ( and To make idols at home, visit ( or simply type into YouTube for descriptive videos.

Shaping the Elephant God

It has been almost two decades since Morchand left his small hamlet Gingolee in Jodhpur district. He took a train to Chennai and then landed in Madurai. “Sukha pad gaya tha aur kheti badi nahi chala, isliye hum idhar chale aaye (The land had dried up and farming wasn’t profitable, so we came here),” says Morchand. “We tried doing various odd jobs and later we chose to make Ganapati idols.”

Nearly half his village followed and today there are over 100 Jodhpur murtikars in the city. At various places across Madurai, they can be seen making Ganesha idols. The men make the mould and structure, while the women and children paint the finished pieces. From miniature models to giant ones in bright colours, there are many varieties. “We don’t learn it from masters,” says Gulabi. “We follow the trial-and-error method. All of us are self-taught artisans. Previously we were using plaster of Paris and ever since the strict measure by the government we are using chalk powder.”

Living in groups by the roadside, they earn their livelihood only out of Ganapati murtis. “This festival is the only business time for us. We earn only during this period and send home money,” says Gulabi. “During off-season, we go for other chota-mota kaam. We also pick up new trends in Ganapati idols.”

Replica of Lalbaugcha Raja

Showing a five-foot-high replica of Mumbai’s famous Lalbaugcha Raja, Morchand says, “This year, there are orders asking for newness in design and hence we chose to recreate the Lalbaugcha Raja in Madurai. There are differences in the features of the Mumbai Ganapati.” He points out that the Maharashtrian Ganapati is well-built and tall, while the South Indian variant is more rounded. There are idols ranging from Rs. 10 to Rs. 10,000. Lankaram has made over 700 small idols and 10 life-size ones this year. He says, “Only upon orders, we make big ones. We get orders from all over south Tamil Nadu. But clients also bargain a lot and we end up giving the idol for even half the price we quote.” He sells a seven-foot-high idol for Rs. 5000 but rues that the profit is meagre as nearly 15 people work on a single idol and the amount is shared among them. “To make a life-size murti, we work continuously for two days. And it takes another day for drying and painting,” says Lankaram. Even local vendors buy Ganesha idols from the Jodhpur murtikars. Sarada from Villapuram, who sells idols every year, says, “I pick up nearly 200 small idols for Rs. 10 each and sell them at the local market. I get a handsome profit. Vilacheri is famous for clay idols and these people are good at light-weight ones made with paper mache or plaster of Paris.”

“Ganesh Chaturthi is even bigger than Diwali for us,” says Morchand. “We are solely dependent on this festival. Usually, people say Goddess Lakshmi gives money but for us Ganesha gives wealth. We make the murti of God, we take pride in it and we attach lots of sentiments while making the idol. The emotions of the artisan get reflected in the idol. Only if we do it with bhakti, the features of the Ganapati will turn out sharp and we consider this job sacred.”

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