Effigy-making, a skill passed down the generations among many Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh, is dying a slow death as younger generation of these artisans is not interested in the profession owing to low financial gains.
Cutting across religious barriers, Muslim craftsmen have been contributing to the Dussehra celebrations for decades by coming up with attractive effigies, which are set on fire as a mark of the victory of good over evil. This year, the Dussehra falls on October 11.
For about two months this time of the year every year, these craftsmen from UP come to the tricity, leaving behind their regular professions of decorations, atishbaazi (fireworks) at weddings, etc. The cost of making the effigies depends on the height and the fireworks that are to be used. A mid-size effigy can cost anything between `1.5 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh.
“I am concerned that this family tradition will die with me. We have been earning a living from effigies for three generations, but my children are not interested,” said Vyasudin Khan (52) from Meerut. He has been into effigy making for 21 years and camps in SAS Nagar ahead of Dussehra every year with a team of about 10 craftsmen from Meerut.
“Our religion does not permit effigy making but as our livelihood depends on this, we have no option. So, once I undertake Haj, I will discontinue it,” added Vyasudin.
His son Shamu Khan (24), after Class 12, has been helping his family to make the effigies, but does not want to continue. “I am more interested in wedding decoration and fireworks, which is more profitable. The cost has been escalating and it (effigy making) does not compensate the effort that goes into it,” said Shamu.
Most of the craftsmen and artisans have other regular jobs like that of barber, painter, tailor and mechanic. Effigy making brings them extra income ranging between `50,000 to `70,000, depending on the deal with the Dussehra committees.
Aliyaz Khan (65), who has been making effigies for more than two decades, said, “My children are not very keen on pursuing his profession. The younger lot finds wedding decorations and cracker-making and arranging fireworks at marriages more lucrative,” he said.
Aazam Ali (50) an artisan from Ghaziabad, said, “This is our family work. My grandfather and father always took pride in contributing to Hindu festivals. I have been helping my parents in this art since my childhood and that is how I developed an interest in it, but my children want to pursue other professions. There is need for the government to pitch in to save this art.”
“To make an effigy, we use thick glaze paper and colours that do not fade easily, apart from bamboo on which the entire structure stands. Traditionally, we are into making crackers and fireworks. We try to innovate with fireworks,” another artisan Ali Hasan (35), who hails from Moradabad in UP, said.