History & Culture

Ganesha idol makers in Visakhapatnam face demand scarcity in the face of pandemic

In a dimly-lit makeshift workshop at the One Town area, idols of Ganeshas in different avatars are being created. A group of boys walks in quietly even as the idol makers from Kolkata continue to work in silence on the idols kept in rows. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festive buzz has been missing and Binoy Pal, the master idol maker from Kumartuli in West Bengal is unsure of what the coming months hold for them.

For years Binoy and his team of idol makers have been coming to Visakhapatnam ahead of the festive season to fashion idols out of the Ganges clay. Though the pandemic had halted their business last year, they took a leap of faith this year and arrived at Visakhapatnam about a month ago. With less than 10 days to go for Ganesh Chaturthi, they have received hardly a handful of orders. "We scaled down our production this year because of the uncertainties. Every year we make at least 200 idols; but this time we have just about 80 Ganesha idols. Most of them are smaller sized ones with a few of five feet height," says a worried Binoy.

Back home, his wife and three sons wait anxiously for his calls. "It has been a year of great struggle for us. Last year, with the government support and subsidies we could sail through the festival months. This year is different. We still do not know if the community celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi will be allowed here," he says. The soaring cost of raw materials have dealt a compounded blow on the business of the idol makers.

The Kumartuli clay lends a fine finish to the idols. The clay is mixed with bamboo, jute and dried-up hay to make the base of the idol. Binoy is among the earliest clay idol makers who arrived in Visakhapatnam many years ago and introduced these eco-friendly idols. There are a few others who come from Kolkata to the city every year, but this time they seem to have stayed away. Many of the small-time idol-makers of Kumartuli are surviving with meagre business from village festivals, says Binoy.

The themes and avatars of the idols in the workshop are mostly inspired from popular culture, with artistes finding their ideas on social media. This year, subdued mood is reflected in the themes which are derived from mythological tales. One Ganesha sits on a lotus, in another the elephant-headed God is in Shiva’s tandav pose, another is reminiscent of Tirumala Venkateswara Swamy. As the festival nears, the tempo of work increases. The makeshift work-station is where Binoy and the team of 11 workers will stay day and night for the next two months till Vijaya Dasami. "This year we are just hoping to stay afloat and not even thinking of making good money. If we manage to not suffer losses, that should be enough," says Binoy.

Migrant workers from other States like Odisha, Chhattisgarh as well as other parts of Andhra Pradesh come down to Visakhapatnam every year ahead of the festival to make and sell Ganesha idols. This time, many of them have not returned. The local artisans have a similar story of struggle as they deal with dwindling demands. Meanwhile at Kummari Veedhi, the traditional potters’colony, the mood is equally subdued. The potters have scaled down production, but are hopeful of a rise in sales as the days to the festival approach. “The household festive celebrations will continue. We hope to see the demand for smaller clay idols pick up a couple of days ahead of the festival,” says Appa Rao, a potter.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 4:47:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/ganesha-idol-makers-in-visakhapatnam-face-demand-scarcity-in-the-face-of-pandemic/article36180827.ece

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