With a day to go for Ganesh Chaturthi, the artisans are busy giving final touches to the idols in their dimly lit makeshift tents. Every year from June onwards, Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi comes to life as skilled craftsmen from Kolkata work round the clock to create Durga and Ganesha idols. As one enters the workshop, the idols are placed on either side. The preparations for Ganesh Chaturthi are in full swing as the artisans work on the clay idols to meet the deadline.
Ganesh Chaturthi or Vinayaka Chaturthi is a 10-day festival that celebrates the birth of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva’s son, Lord Ganesha. This year it falls on September 13. Known as the God of all beginnings, Ganesha is often worshipped at the onset of most occasions to ward off the evil eye.
Coming from a family of artisans, Govind Nath, the head artist at CR Park’s famous Kali Mandir, said that he has been making idols since he was a teenager. Nath believes that the ancient art form is slowly dying as the younger generation is not interested in carrying forth the family tradition of sculpture making. Battling harsh working conditions, the artisans struggle to make ends meet. This is another reason why the interest of the younger generation in creating larger-than-life idols of gods is diminishing.
Having learnt the craft from his father, Nath, now works with more than a dozen artisans who have come all the way from Kolkata. These dilapidated makeshift tents become their home for close to six months. But work doesn’t end for these artisans as this is what they continue to do throughout the year in Kolkata’s Kumartuli, which is possibly the home to the best craftsmen in the country.
Dismissing the dwindling demand of Ganesha idols in comparison to Durga, Nath said that the customers generally place the order six months in advance. Sometimes the customers give them the design and ask them to replicate. In the absence of a detailed plan, the artisans are often told to create something different from the usual every year.
Not very far away from Kali Mandir is another workshop, set in the now-defunct Chanderlok Cinema hall premises in CR Park neighbourhood. Manik Paul and his team of craftsman bring life into this workshop before every Pujo which wears a deserted look for the rest of the year. Apart from making clay idols of the Elephant God, work on the idols of Durga, her consort Shiva, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Mahishasura is also underway.
The 47-year-old Manik Paul is often seen giving instructions to other artisans as they begin to decorate Ganesha idols with silver and gold ornaments. While another artisan is seen spraying pink colour at an eight-feet Ganesha idol kept under a plastic cover.
Gopal Pal, another artisan, who has been in this business since more than two decades, explains the process of idol making. The first step begins with the creation of mould or framework which is done using hay straw around wooden planks and sticks for the foundation. Once, the figurine is made out of straw, chaff and clay, it is kept in the sun to dry. Multiple layers of clay are put over the figurine to cover the cracks which have appeared and also to make it look smooth.
Even the dress material, ornaments and colours are mostly sourced from Kolkata. Once the idols are ready, the eyes are painted and given finishing touches. The final step is the clothes, hair and ornaments which is mostly done one or two days before the delivery of the Ganesha idols.
These dingy, cramped workshops are not only working spaces for the artisans but also used as storage space of idols and other raw materials. This is also their temporary homes where they cook, sleep and eat often listening to Bengali music, which is their only source of entertainment. Scenes like these are common inside Chandralok cinema premises where Manik Paul and his team have camped since June.