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Monday, October 25, 2021

Kolkata: Amid rising costs and slow recovery, artists in Kumartuli yearn for pre-Covid times

Many artists said that the cost of raw materials had significantly increased, and spoke of a labour shortage since many of them returned to their villages during the pandemic.

Written by Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: October 10, 2021 7:35:48 am
Dura puja, Kumartuli. Idol sculptors, durga Sculptors, Kolkata, Kolkata news, Indian express, Indian express newsArtists give final touches to Durga idols ahead of Navratri festival and Durga Puja. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Despite a steady rise in orders at the eleventh hour and a marginal improvement compared to last year, idol sculptors in Kumartuli in north Kolkata have said they were suffering because of declining idol prices, rising costs and low profits. The artisans who are known for making clay idols for Durga Puja and other festivals are hoping that their business steadies and gets back to pre-pandemic levels by next year.

“Several organisers are opting to buy ready-made idols instead of pre-ordering the sculptors to make one for them. Many organising committees have decided to organise the Puja a little late,” said Prasanta Pal, a Kumartuli artist.

Many said that the cost of raw materials had significantly increased, and spoke of a labour shortage since many of them returned to their villages during the pandemic. Incessant rainfall in south Bengal in the past few weeks has added to their woes. As a result, they are declining half the orders coming in at the last moment.

Karthik Chandra Pal who has been associated with the idol-making trade for decades said he was struggling to accept last-minute orders. He added, “The reason is that the lockdown lasted for a long time. There was uncertainty about how the atmosphere would be during Durga Puja or the rest of the Puja, whether Durga Puja would be celebrated, so only a limited number of idols were made by purchasing a limited number of raw materials. However, now we are getting a lot of orders at the last minute, which we cannot fulfil even if we want to. About 50 per cent of orders have been declined.”

Vishakhapatnam resident Shashi Jain, one of Pal’s oldest customers, was at the potters’ quarter in north Kolkata to buy Lakshmi and Ganesh idols like he does every year before Diwali. Jain, who purchases small idols from Pal and sells them in Vishakhapatnam’s local markets, said, “You cannot get such a variety of idols in India other than Kumartuli.

“I have been coming to this shop for almost 30 years now, I am taking the idols in bulk with the hope that this time there will be no effect of corona in the Diwali market there in Vishakhapatnam.”

Speaking about the rising cost of raw materials such as wood, bamboo and colours, idol-maker Maya Pal, while draping an eight-foot-long Durga idol with a saree, said, “The cost of raw materials have shot up. Since the Puja organisers have a low budget, we are unable to pass the excess burden on to customers. Though the market is better than in 2020, it is definitely not yet a profitable year for any of us.”

Asked why the last-minute orders had shot up, artist Prashanta Pal said it might have something to do with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Rs 50,000 grant to clubs that organise pujas. “More orders started coming in after August 15. However, this time the organisers have kept the budget low, due to which the artisans are not getting much profit despite getting orders at the last minute,” he added.
A consequence of the dwindling profits and rising costs has been the decrease in the height of idols.

This year the average height of Durga idols is 12-13 feet — taller than last year but much smaller than the 15 feet and above in 2019. In 2015, the Deshapriya Park Puja pandal had set a record by installing an 80-feet Durga idol. At the time, it was billed as the “tallest idol in the world”.

Kumartuli artisan Mintu Paul whose family has been sculpting idols for decades also said that the business had yet to return to the pre-pandemic levels.

While the demand for single-platform Durga idols was higher last year, may feel that the situation is slightly better this time around.
“The prices of everything have gone up, affecting the budget of big Pujas. The market isn’t like what it was in pre-Covid times as yet,” said Babu Paul, a well-known idol maker and the secretary of the Kolkata Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity.

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