Ganpati a week away: Small, Bahubali to huge, watch how Bappa takes shape in Mumbai
In the second half of every year, this time from August 25, Mumbai plays host to its favourite God for up to 12 days. The preparations, however, begin months in advance.mumbai Updated: Aug 18, 2017 16:53 IST
By the beginning of August, scores of makeshift sheds of hideous blue plastic sheets held up by bamboo poles line the rain-soaked bylanes of Lalbaug, Parel. Walk into one of these dimly lit work spaces and you will find men in tattered clothes, covered in plaster of Paris (PoP) and paint, often hanging precariously from rickety bamboo scaffolding, silently crafting with stunning artistry Ganpati idols as big as 20 feet high and more. Welcome to where the magic happens.
In the second half of every year, this time from August 25, Mumbai plays host to its favourite God for up to 12 days. The preparations, however, begin months in advance.
After Ganeshotsav was transformed into a mass event by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the late 1800s as a way to bridge the gap between ‘Brahmins and non-Brahmins’, it has supported many a livelihood, with generations invested in the making of the idol. And what a back-breaking process it is, sometimes literally.
Apart from Lalbaug, make-shift workshops start springing up in Chinchpokli and Wadala from March onwards. The smaller idols are made using either PoP or clay. Pen in Raigad is a hub of small Ganpatis, and idol-makers from the town bring truckloads of them every year to the city. But it’s the bigger ones that require months of painstaking work.
Step one involves procuring the main ingredient for these mammoth structures — PoP. “We buy hundreds of truckloads from Bikaner,” says artist Krunal Patil, who has two workshops in Wadala where idols up to 25 feet tall are made. Most idol-makers buy the material from Rajasthan because it is cheap and hence cost-effective. And for good reason. One 20-foot idol would require 30 bags of POP each weighing about 25kilos, says Patil. And he makes at least 60 idols ranging from six to 20 feet every year.
How the idol will look is decided down to the last detail, including the expression on the face, in discussions the artist has with the Ganpati mandal that commissions it. A sketch is then made, which the workers have to follow to the tee.
These workers are artists extraordinaire. Their main job: To bring to life their boss’s vision. Gaining entry into these workshops isn’t easy. Some idol makers like Ramesh Rawale to mentor their workers. His family has been in the business, Rawale claims, for 98 years. “We have mentored not just boys and girls from Maharashtra, but also from Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Of course, you cannot learn if you don’t have an inherent love for the art,” says Rawale.
In another part of Lalbaug lies a makeshift workshop built on leased railway ground, which was started by the late Vijay Khatu. Here, workers are in mourning for their ‘Sheth’, who passed away at the end of July, but work continues as usual, albeit in eerie silence. Khatu’s nephew, Nikhil, who is overseeing the work, says, “My uncle would go to the interiors of Maharashtra in search of artists for the workshop. My father does the same. Once the artists are picked, we get them to Mumbai and they are given a one-year apprenticeship. If we like their work, we keep them on permanently.”
Now comes the hard part. Making moulds for the idol — for the hands, feet, head, torso and trunk. But first, an armature — or a frame around which the idol is moulded — is created. “If the idol is standing, the armature is usually made of metal, and if Ganpati is sitting on a throne, we use wood,” says Patil.
The first mould to go up is the torso, followed by the head, hands and legs. The moulds are stuck together using glue and coir or coconut fibre. They are cut and refitted depending on the position of the hands and legs. Then it is the turn of the ‘finishing team’, as Patil calls them.
Zoom to get a view of a workshop in Chinchpokli:
A separate team applies a base coat, another applies the ‘body tone’, and then shading is done using spray paint. A ‘jewellery team’ then dresses up the idol with accessories, which generally include bangles, a crown, a trishul (trident), if required, and any other request the mandal may have. The last step is painting the eyes. And voila! The idol is ready for the devotees.
The labourers work day and night to make an idol.
“Every idol-maker has a different technique,” says Rawale. He claims 10 of his workers can erect one idol, in its rough form, in a couple of days. “Most of these artists who come from JJ School of Arts would take a month. But we have experience, and our technique is more practical hence we take just two days,” he says.
The owners of Kambli Arts, who have been making Lalbaugcha Raja since 1935, however, keep the moulds ready and erect the idol just one week before the festival, to keep the design a secret.
It all, naturally, comes at a cost. A standard 15-inch household idol will set you back by around Rs2,000 if made of PoP. Environment-friendly clay idols will cost you around Rs5,000 because they are handmade, unlike the PoP ones that use moulds. “The range for the cost of mandal idols is anywhere between Rs80,000 and Rs4 lakh, depending on the concept,” says Patil.
Back at the Khatu workshop in Lalbaug, 5-6 workers are readying an idol to be taken to Kolhapur, piling sand on to the truck bed to keep it stable. “We will take turns to drive the whole day and the entire night to deliver Bappa to the mandal there,” says a worker as the truck drives off amid chants of ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’.
Videos and photos by Anshuman Poyrekar
First Published: Aug 18, 2017 09:50 IST