FOR 48 years now, carving Ganesha idols for a three-month stint in Central Mumbai has been Vijay Khatu’s annual pilgrimage of sorts. The 62-year-old and his team of workers are at the Central Railway ground in Parel, working on nearly 300 Ganesha idols which are at various stages of completion.
For three months, the Railway ground turns into a massive idol workshop, and the creations are sought after by almost 150 Ganpati mandals in the city and the suburbs.
The workshop is bustling with devotees arriving to check on idols, and the first few large idols are rolling out towards their pandals in a somewhat thinner weekend traffic. Undisturbed by the chaos, Khatu and his team give finishing touches, concentrating currently on the tallest of idols.
“For the past eight years, our mandal’s Ganpati has been coming from Khatu’s creations,” says Amol Masalkar, member of the Dharavi Sukhakarta Ganpati Mandal. “His focus on details and the finesse with which all his past creations are made impress us the most,” he says.
“There is a meaning and subjective interpretation in every Ganesha idol I make,” says Khatu, an artist experimenting with anatomy of idols for years now. “I always try to bring something novel into each of my creations, whether through the poses, the color combination or simply through the idol’s eyes. I always add something of my own which makes the idol unique and stand out from the rest.”
A second generation sculptor, Khatu joined his father Ramkrishna Vishwanath Khatu in this business at the age of 14. Since then, he and his brother have kept the tradition alive.
“Though I had been making idols for long, the workshop ground came to me only 20 years back. Gradually, the capacity increased and we could hire more people for including better variations in idols. Heights of Ganeshas here vary from 8 feet to a maximum of 22 feet,” Khatu says.
The work begins in the first week of June, where workers are allotted different idols to be completed at least by mid-August. Post that, each mandal invites their Bappa to their respective mandal with celebration and pomp.
“As the decorative requirements for each mandal varies, they prefer taking the idols well in advance. Achieving their deadlines without any compromise on quality of the work, is a task,” Khatu says.
While the finishing work is handled by other employees, Khatu claims he designs and models each idol with equal devotion.
“I design each idol and give preliminary inputs on its anatomy. Every idol is made keeping in mind the mandal’s requirements and wishes. A team of 10-12 workers can complete a 22-foot idol in a minimum of eight days,” Khatu says.
Chinchpokali Chintamani, Chandanwadi Girgaum, Akravi Khetwadi, Kamatipura Chaudavi Galli, Tardeo Tusliwadi, Grant Road Tilak Market remain some of the regular mandals for Khatu’s team. Though a master at his work, Khatu believes he himself takes a lot of care while making idols with a difficult anatomy.
“Carving Ganeshas that stand on one leg is till date the most difficult assignment for me. I, with my team, take utmost care while making those as balancing the model requires great care and attention,” Khatu said.
The other challenge for the team is the rent — nearly Rs 5.75 lakh to be paid to the Railways each month during these three months.
“In August, we get done with making Ganesha idols and then the work on making Durga idols follows. While paying the hefty rent becomes difficult, we try to increase cost of our creations by 25 per cent every year, so that we are able to bear the rent of the space,” Khatu says.
What makes his team happy is when clients are satisfied with the work done. “I think we have the blessings of Bappa when people appreciate the efforts and creativity in our work,” Khatu added.