With a dozen workers and his brother accompanying him, Panshu Gopal Pal is busy preparing idols of the goddess Durga at his workshop in Meerut Road. The third-generation idol maker travels to Ghaziabad from Kolkata with his workers every year to meet the demand for Durga idols. While Durga puja is round the corner for devotees, Pal’s preparations start almost five months before the festival begins.
“I learnt the art from my father who started to work here in 1982. After he passed away, I took on the tradition of idol making in Ghaziabad. We have regular customers from Ghaziabad, Delhi, Meerut and adjoining areas who arrive each year,” said Pal, a graduate who loves creating and painting the Durga idols.
He said he uses soil from the banks of Hooghly, a distributary of the river Ganga in Kolkata, to make the idols.
“The soil near the banks of the river is suitable for making the faces, hands and fingers. The soil is packed in nearly 40-50 packets and transported to Ghaziabad. We use dyes made of soil, ararot, seeds of tamarind, maida and papaya. We stopped using synthetic colour long ago as there is stress on preventing pollution in rivers from idol immersion,” he said.
Pal had set up his workshop at Meerut Road after he began receiving regular orders from Ghaziabad for Durga puja, Laxmi puja and Kali puja.
“It generally takes a month for an idol to be completed. First, we prepare the bamboo sticks for shaping the outline of the idol. Thereafter, the soil is readied and pasted on the sticks in layers to give it a shape. Once they dry up, the idols are fine tuned and then we start colouring and painting. We generally use a spray machine to paint the major background portions, but the eyes, hands, ornaments and other parts require painting by hand,” said Palash Kumar, Pal’s younger brother.
Pal and his team have been working as late as 1am so that the idols are ready in time. Their workshop is filled with nearly 100 idols of different deities in various states of completion that are being painted for the upcoming Durga puja celebrations.
However, the artisans are unhappy with the payments they receive after months of hard work. Panshu Pal said his will be the last generation of his family to engage in preparing Durga idols.
“The costs are high, but people are not ready to pay up. It takes us months to prepare these idols, but we don’t make enough profit. I find it tough to meet the cost of workers, their food, train tickets, and boarding and lodging. I have two sons back home who are studying and I will not allow them to take up this occupation anymore. People give orders, but make lame excuses when it comes to making proper payments. They may engage other artistes for celebrations and pay them lakhs for one or two hours, but there is hardly any payment for artisans like us,” Pal said.