Idle Idol Makers grips in gloom

-Dr.Moushumi Bhattacharjee

Durga Puja, the largest and most eagerly-awaited festival for the idol makers is just a month away; though not a very long time considering the scale of celebrations – but this year presents a gloomy sight as its artisans are unsure of what the autumn of 2020 holds for them in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sapan Paul (50) who is into the business of idol making since the last 35 years says “corona has killed the fervour of festivity this year for us”. Unlike other years when they started taking orders for goddess Durga idols from the month of April, this year they were bound to think of shifting to some other profession to run their livelihood. This is not the only case with the Paul brothers who hail from the Pandu Rest camp locality. There are around 20 families in this area, who have been into this business from generations. “As artisans, we are all related. My grandfather was in the business of sculpting idols, so were my father and uncles. Now, I have taken it up as well. But I am not sure if my son would be interested in this familial business.”

With the festive season around the corner, the customary idol makers are missing in action, as are their idols of Ganesha, Devi Manasha and Bishwakarmalay stacked in plastic wraps unsold and un-noticed. Last year we had booked 25 orders of Goddess Durga idols, but this year I have only three bookings” says another artisan from the locality. August and September are the busiest months for these craftsmen as many of their idols would have been receiving the final touches by this time of the year, but Covid-19 changed everything.

By mid-September, idol makers would have sold almost all of their idols of Lord Bishwakarma and would have been working on idols of Durga, for Durga Puja festival due in October. But like the rest of the economy, this year Covid-19 pandemic has killed the season as sales have dropped dramatically and the order book is almost empty, pushing the community of idol makers deep into debt just so they could sustain themselves and their families.

The process of making idols is a complex one. Artisans have to toil day and night, and divide the work between shifts to build an idol of exclusive quality. With the little order they have taken this year is also not without any hurdles as now they are struggling with financial cringe to buy the raw materials required for finishing their assignments. In accordance with the government SOPs for the celebrations of Durga Puja during the time of Covid-19, the handful order which they have received are all for around 4 to 5 foot in size. The remittance for all their efforts depends on the type of idol, size and its decoration. But the year 2020 is different in all facets when people around the world are struggling hard for survival – even the idol makers, whose fine expertise has been the highlight of all religious festivities for centuries, are suffering in silence for their daily bread.

Dr.MoushumiBhattacharjee is an Independent Researcher and Folk Media Enthusiasts.

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