As the Capital prepares to celebrate Durga Puja in its full glory after a two-year gap forced by the pandemic, festive cheer eludes idol makers who were hoping to make good money this time. Cost cutting by firms, sponsors and individuals has pushed several puja committees to minimise their spending, thereby impacting the idol budget.
Sudip Ranjan Rout, a 40-year-old artist from Kolkata, said a majority of the puja committees have halved their budget due to a lack of sponsors. “Companies that earlier sponsored various events are running in losses currently and unwilling to spend as much,” said Mr. Rout, who has his idol-making unit at Mayur Vihar.
Another artist from Kolkata, Gobind Nath, 48, who owns a shop at C.R. Park, said the committees that bought idols for ₹3 lakh earlier are not able to spend more than ₹50,000 to ₹60,000 this year.
Besides downsizing of puja budget, the orders for idols have also come down. Mr. Nath, who used to make at least 60 idols during Durga Puja earlier, has received orders for only 25 this season. Tapan Pradhan, an idol maker from West Bengal’s Haldia who lives in New Ashok Nagar, said, “I have lost money because I invested in raw material to make at least 50 idols but got only 20 orders. I have to bear the cost of the artisans from my pocket; I cannot get extra idols made and keep them for next year.”
Mr. Pradhan explained that each artist spends a month and a half in Delhi to make idols. This year he hired six persons to work in two shifts, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.
According to Mr. Nath, several artisans went back to West Bengal and did not return after the pandemic. As a result, idol makers like him worked with 50% of the workforce to complete the idols in time for Durga Puja, starting on October 1.
Sumanto, 29, an artist from Krishna Nagar in West Bengal, has been coming to Delhi every autumn. “I belong to a family of idol makers and we have never had it so hard. This year we are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Sumanto earned up to ₹25,000 from idol making at C.R. Park. This year, his earnings have reduced to ₹15,000. “Our working hours did not change and we put in the same effort in making the idols. But now I am struggling to sustain my family of five with the reduced income,” he said.
The ban on idol immersion in the Yamuna has also prompted many puja committees to order smaller idols, which can easily be immersed in waterbodies dug up for the purpose. There’s also a higher demand for mud-based idols painted with natural colours, as those made with plaster of paris and decorated with synthetic colours are difficult to immerse.
“The idol makers have had to invest in raw material and rework their designs within their limited budget to pander to the demands of the puja committees,” Mr. Rout said.
The puja organisers are also feeling the pinch of cost-cutting as they have had to dig into their committee budgets in the absence of enough sponsors to get the best possible idols for their pandals.
This year’s situation has forced many puja samitis to seek direct donations. Secretary of Mela Ground Durga Puja Samiti, Narayan Dey, said since the festival could not be celebrated during the peak of COVID, the committees went out of touch with their regular sponsors. “We approached 10 of our old sponsors but only two responded,” he said.
Mrinal Biswas, general secretary at Purbanchal Bangiyo Samiti, an umbrella body of 38 Durga Puja committees, said this year the organisers were focussing on direct donations as sponsorship reduced by 40% to 50%. “For instance, companies that earlier gave us ₹20,000 to meet the expenses of any item, are willing to pay only ₹10,000 this year. To add to it, the cost of everything has gone up and we are trying to make up for the shortfall somehow,” he said.