Even as the festivities for this year’s Durga Puja began here on Thursday, artisans of the city’s colony of idol-makers at Kumartuli have little to cheer about with their profits severely affected by the economic recession and rising prices.

“On the one hand, the cost of raw materials shot up and on the other organisers cut down on the amount they were willing to spend on the idols,” said Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samiti, secretary Babu Pal.

Mr. Pal says that the cost of bamboo shot up from Rs. 45 last year to Rs. 90 this year and prices of hay jumped from Rs. 120 to about Rs. 170 per kg. Although pith is rarely available now, artists that adorned idols with pith had to shell out nearly Rs. 400-500 for the same amount of pith that would have cost them Rs. 200 last year.

Mr. Bolai Dutta, an Durga idol exporter, usually gets ten overseas export orders but received only three this year.

While costs have escalated the economic slowdown has meant that idol-makers have not even been able to pass on the burden to the buyers.

“My regular customers came and told me that it had been difficult for them to collect funds this year,” said Nabakumar Pal, another artisan at Kumartuli. “How they compensated was to go for smaller idols – say a 8-feet idol instead of the usual 10-feet one.”

Already faced with a cost crunch, studio owners have also had to contend with labour shortages.

The number of persons who learn the craft of idol making have declined over the year and are in high demand in the days just preceding the festival, said Mr. Pal. An artisan who usually charges Rs. 150 a day is charging as much as Rs. 800 per day these days, he added.

“The profession, seasonal by nature, is so unrewarding that I would never encourage my son to join the guild,” said Bhaskar Pal.