To make or not to make: Pandemic leaves idol makers in a dilemma as festive season nears
The festive season is around the corner, but the customary idol makers are missing in action, as are their Ganesha idols — many of which would have been receiving the final touches by this time of the year, if not for Covid-19.Updated: Aug 03, 2020 04:32 IST
Two piles of mud in the parking lot of the defunct Chandralok Cinema in south Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park are the only discernible signs of the space serving as the workplace for idol makers over five months every year.
The festive season is around the corner, but the customary idol makers are missing in action, as are their Ganesha idols — many of which would have been receiving the final touches by this time of the year, if not for Covid-19.
“Beginning June every year, about a dozen idol makers from West Bengal would camp here for five months. No one has turned up this time,” says Zulfikar Malik, the caretaker of the lonely parking lot.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus disease forcing authorities to restrict public gatherings, most idol makers in the city returned to their hometowns during the lockdown.
With the uncertainty surrounding upcoming festivals, and Delhi still recording an average of over 1,000 new cases of the infection every day, the idol makers who stayed back in the Capital face a dilemma — to begin work for grand festivities or not.
“I am making small Ganesha idols for people who want to put them up in their homes during Ganesh Chaturthi. But I don’t know if I should make a few big ones for the pandals (stages),” says 48-year-old Govind Nath, who has been making idols of deities at a shed in CR Park Kali Mandir for decades now.
It takes Nath around a month to ready a 12-feet-tall idol. He says it’s easier when he works on several idols simultaneously. But he isn’t sure if he should proceed with the plan when he has got no orders, and much still up in the air.
Ganesh Chaturthi is due to be held on August 22, and Durga Puja will be celebrated between October 22 and 26.
While religious places in the Capital were thrown open for the public in early June, the relaxation came with a host of rules — such as maintaining a six-feet distance between each devotee, not touching idols and not making any offerings. Religious congregations are still not permitted, even under the Centre’s Unlock 3 guidelines.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm has steadily dampened among idol makers and devotees.
Sunil Pal, vice-president of CR Park Mela Ground Durga Puja Samiti says he doesn’t expect the government to grant permission even for Durga Puja. “Usually, we place orders for Mata idols by June-end, but this time we are yet to decide,” Pal says.
The Bengali-dominated south Delhi locality is the hub of Durga Puja festivities in Delhi every year.
Even if they are permitted to set up pandals on a small scale, the association will settle for smaller idols that can be readied at short notice, Pal says.
Idol makers say given the volume of idols required for Durga Puja every year, they begin work in June itself.
But Kheta Ram, a 26-year-old idol maker in Tughlaqabad village in South Delhi says he is yet to begin work. “I am not sure people will want to spend money on idols this time. Those organising pandals are unlikely to receive donations. So I have been postponing the work every day. I have lost the enthusiasm to pursue such hard work,” he says.
For Ganesh Chaturthi, there will be far fewer pandals in Delhi this year, says Mahendra Ladda, president of the 18-year-old Shri Gant Sewa Mandal Delhi, an association in Laxmi Nagar.
“There will be little work for the artisans this time, as celebrations will be muted, but our pandal will still go ahead with celebrations, even if it means shortening the period to three days instead of the usual 10, and having only the core members perform the puja,” he says.
He says pandals are usually set up a month before the celebrations, but everything is on hold this year.
“We have never missed the celebrations in the last 18 years, and the puja will be streamed online for the devotees this year,” he added.
While the association has already placed an order for a two-feet-tall statue, idol makers aren’t sure they’ll be able to deliver large idols if orders are placed late.
“I had about 20 people working for me, who have all returned to their home towns and villages in Bengal. They don’t want to come back, and even if some do, I don’t know if I can pay them the usual wages,” Govind Nath says.
Working alone for now, Nath is readying a couple of large Ganesha and Durga idols — each of them about half the usual size he prepares for CR Park’s major pandals, but he isn’t sure they’ll find buyers.
Nath and other idol makers had received a jolt early on in the lockdown itself. They had made Durga and Annapurna Devi idols for Ram Navami, but the lockdown was announced before they could be sold out for the festival on April 2.
“Not one of the 70 idols I had prepared were sold. Now I have packed them in plastic covers and stored them to sell during Durga Puja, and hope people will buy them for their homes. I’ll be selling them for much less than usual,” says Ram Rawat, an idol maker in Yamuna Pushta, near Akshardham Mandir.
“I am making just around 200 small Ganesha idols this time,” says Rawat, who made 1,000 idols last year.