The Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal may have triggered political controversies in the state, but in one corner of Kolkata that’s a storehouse of creative energy, the saffron push has brought unalloyed cheer. And business.
Kumortuli, in north Kolkata, is the nursery and cradle where hundreds of artisans make and export the famous Durga idols. Though they have long been applauded for their craftsmanship, most of these godmakers have traditionally suffered seasonality of demand, turning the profession financially unattractive.
But over the past few years, the steady push of the Sangh Parivar to spread worship of new deities -- Sherawali Mata, Ganesh and now Ram Navami celebrations -- is adding smile to the faces.
“Over the past few years there has been a steady rise of these idols that we are making. This year many artists have made the idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Hanuman,” said Kanchi Pal Dutta, who has been making deities for the past 35 years at her father’s studio.
“Earlier artists in Kumortuli had three bursts of business before Durgapuja (in October), Kali puja (cotber/November) and Swaraswati puja (February). But now business is trickling in almost round the year with manifold rise in the worship of Sherawali Mata and Ganesh. Ram Navami will add to the rising graph in the years ahead,” said Mintu Pal, who has been making idols for the past 25 years in Kumortuli.
There are about 250 artists who have their own studio in this area beside the Hooghly river in north Kolkata. The business provides bread to thousands of labourers who assist these artists to make an idol that involves putting together a diverse array of materials such as bamboo, wood, nails, straw, clay, colour, textile and props.
Pal made the first Sherawali idol about five years ago, and is now doing about five a year.
“One skillful artist and two unskilled labourers need to work for five to six days to finish a 10 feet Sherawali idol. With orders of hundreds of idols floating in, you can work estimate the income,” said Ranjit Sarkar, an idol maker who has exported pith Durga idols to New York, Munich and Berlin.
Sarkar said a 10-feet Sherawali idol that features the goddess astride a tiger is sold for around Rs 30,000. Pal Dutta sold a six-feet Sherawali idol for Rs 18,000.
The time of the worships also work in favour of the artists. “The proceeds of Ganesh idols come in handy to buy raw materials for the Durga puja preparations,” said Sarkar.
“We expect idols for Ram Navami to gather pace too in the coming years,” said Pal. Ram Navami celebrations involve a number of idols and, therefore, a few orders can result in good business, feels the artists.
Pal, who recently grabbed headline for putting together an 88-feet Durga, the largest ever made, thinks it’s an outcome of two reasons -- the city’s demography is gradually changing, and more and more Bengalis are also getting involved in the celebrations traditionally associated with the Hindi heartland. “Ganesh puja has become quite a rage now with festivities spilling on to the streets of Kolkata with many community pujas being organised. Who knows, maybe we are witnessing the beginning of a trend that will culminate in Mumbai-like celebrations,” remarked Pal.