Category Archives: Ganesha Idol Makers
New generation of Kulalar families has taken up other professions
The Vinayaka Chathurthi festival falling on September 17 provides an occasion for a family reunion among the members of the ‘Kulalar’ families who are traditionally in the business of making pots, Vinayaka idols for the festival and other idols for the Navarathri festival.
For several generations, the ‘Kulalars’ (the potters’ community) have been engaged in the profession which was their sole bread-winner. But in the last two decades, there has been a decline in the number of persons engaged in the business owing to the aging of the elders and their inability to do the job, and the disinterest among the next generation in continuing the profession. Many of the children of the traditional potters have got educated as teachers, engineers, doctors and IT professionals and have taken up jobs in other parts of the state and other states in India. Many have also gone abroad. Come Vinayaka Chathurthi, the members of the families would visit their native homes and assist the elders in giving finishing touches to the Vinayaka idols.
Senthilkumar, son of Mohan (55), a potter in Choolaimedu who is now studying 10th standard, was seen stamping on wet clay to prepare it for moulding Vinayaka idols in front of his house. Mohan’s another son Thulasiraman (24) is a B.Com. graduate and is looking for better pastures.
“My sons help me only on the eve of Vinayaka Chathurthi. The business is losing its sheen because of the declining interest among the younger generation in doing the job”, he said.
A. Dinakaran, who works for a religious organization, was making idols alone in his house in Kosapet as his mother who used to help him has gone to Dubai to be with her second son. His son, studying in an engineering college in Coimbatore, is not interested in taking up the profession, he said. He would come on the morning of September 17 and help him in giving finishing touches to the idols and selling them, he added.
“My uncle R. Chinnadurai, who is a retired headmaster residing in Ranipet, has promised to come on Wednesday night to help me. But my cousin who is a government doctor in Chennai, who used to come here in advance till two years ago is not coming now because of his professional preoccupation,” he said. A problem which the potters encountered this year was the intense heat which causes cracks in the idols, necessitating touch-up. Besides, the price of mud which the potters used to get from irrigation tanks has shot up from Rs.3,000 per lorry load to Rs.4,500.
A salient feature of the business is that the potters have taken to electric wheels to mould the three parts of the Vinayaka idol—the base, the body and the head.
NAVI MUMBAI: A family of Ganpati idol-makersin Ulwe is aggressively promoting environment-friendly clay or shadu idols.
Nitin Kumbhar and his two brothers, Hareshwar and Ganesh, have already made nearly 50 such idols this year, for clients from Mumbai. Navi Mumbai and other cities, and want to start an institute soon to promote the making of such idols.
Kumbhar’s father, Pandurang, started making clay murtis in the 1940s, at Ulwe Gaon; today, with Ulwe emerging as a crucial node of Navi Mumbai, the children are continuing that tradition.
“Earlier, artisans mostly made clay idols. We have retained that culture and would like to popularise it. These days, most idols are made of plaster of paris because idol-making has been transformed from an art into a profit-making enterprise,” Nitin Kumbhar said.
The biggest idol Nitin has created this year is five feet tall, for a mandal in Pune. He has used 10 kg of shadu clay for it, and half a kg of coir (coconut shell hair). He says he uses coir on the wet inner portion of an idol to make the structure sturdy.
Nitin is keen to start a school for artisans so the new generation can learn.
Ganesh idols in various guises — there’s Bal Ganesh, and one, with its trunk morphing into a dove, symbolising peace — are parked at Chandrashekar Pal’s workshop off Nandidurg Road, waiting for a final dash of colour and decoration.
Having done this for the last 22 years, he’s fluent in Kannada, easily telling off the curious children who sneak into his workspace to touch Ganesh’s shiny dhoti and lotus-shaped eyes — “Beda, beda! Allinda ne nodi!”
DEMAND FOR GANESH
Mr. Pal arrived in Bangalore four months ago with 13 idol-makers and a cook to begin preparations for the festival. “I spend seven months here. I go back for all the important festivals,” he says, busy giving finishing touches to Ganesha idols.
He says he sells close to 300 Ganesh idols in the city, and about 40 Durga idols during the festival.
His idols make their way to Mysore, KGF, Mandya, Hassan and even Madurai in Tamil Nadu. “This year we are making a 20-ft-tall Durga idol [to be sent to] KGF and we are also transporting a 10-ft-tall Sai Baba idol to Mysore, where the Ganesh festival organisers are devotees of Sai Baba.”
Tarun Paul (53), who has been the idol-maker for Bangalore’s Bengalee Association for 40 years, began making Ganesh idols in 1984. His father, Sudhir Paul (89), started making idols in Bangalore in 1971. They too come from West Bengal during festival season. “Locals here were impressed with our work and asked us to make a couple of idols in 1984, since then the numbers have only risen,” says Mr. Tarun, who has a workshop at Cox Town.
COST OF INPUTS
Mr. Pal says the artisans bring clay from the banks of the Ganga and other raw materials, including watercolour and fabric, from West Bengal. “The cost has gone up this year for us especially because of the hike in petrol prices. We are charging about 2–4 per cent more on the idols this time.” This, even as budgets of organisers have been slashed, he says.
A 5-ft Ganesh idol costs about Rs. 4,000. And, a complete set of basic idols for Durga puja, comprising Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh, Kartik and in some cases, Mahishasura, costs about Rs. 30,000.
However, demand for hand-crafted idols is declining, Mr. Pal rues. “Many people prefer plaster of Paris idols. We can offer novelty and tradition when it comes to idols and no one can beat us at that.”
The focus of Durga Puja here is different from that in West Bengal, Mr. Tarun says. “In Kolkata, organisers spend up to Rs. 2 lakh on Durga idols, but here, the cultural programmes and food take up most of the budget and organisers are willing to spend about Rs. 25,000 on Durga idols.”
Their turnover during the festival season is more or less the same in Bangalore as in West Bengal. “If not for us, how will probashi (non-resident) Bengalis celebrate their most important festival?” he asks.
Having a sustained conversation with Nayanar at his stall of Ganapathi idols in an encyclopaedia of sizes, hues and textures located off the bylanes of Purasawalkam, seems difficult, thanks to an incessant stream of enquiries he receives from either in person or over the phone. And why not, for Ganesh Chathurti — the festival when they would do maximum business — is just over a week ahead, on September 9. Needless to say, the bylanes, which are also Chennai’s hub for the Ganesha idols, are all geared up for the occasion.
Ganeshas in pastel shades, black and white, riding various mounts – from the traditional mouse to horses and even unicorns and chariots are neatly arranged across the sides of the lanes. Add the elements of lighting and traditional offerings, and it is plausible that the newcomer may assume it to be a Navarathri kolu doll arrangement.
Paper mache and Plaster of Paris idols clearly seem to be the flavour of the season, as stocks at most of the stalls are of these materials. “Look at this,” he says, pointing to a nine-foot tall grey-tinged Ganesha idol, with its mount in vivid colours in a wide base. “This can be lifted by just two persons without much effort,” he says, while driving home the USP of the materials. He elaborates that most of the idols are sourced from Andhra Pradesh, particularly Tirupati, and painted here, before they make the transition to the pandals across the city. The price of the idol depends on its height, with the final figure arrived at after including all costs. Satyanarayanan, another dealer, who runs his stall nearby, says that most go by the thumb-rule of rate-slabs depending on the idol height. “For idols upto three feet height, the charge is Rs 1,000/ ft, Rs 1,500 if the height ranges between six- seven feet. beyond the charge would be Rs 2,000/foot. Although regulations stipulate the maximum height of the idols at 10 feet, we usually craft it a little taller,” says Satyanarayanan, who has also sourced his idols from Tirupathi. Last year, he sold around 85 idols, making a net profit of around Rs 10,000. The two however, state that their clientele insist that the idols stick to tradition and are not too fashionable.
If the idols are to arrive in time for Ganesh Chathurti, then work begins a good four-five times, they add. However, Sankar, a native of Rajasthan, who has been crafting the idols made out of plaster of Paris, in an open plot near Neelankarai, puts it at six. He adds that work begins with crafting the die for the idols, followed by the formation of different parts of the idols such as the trunk and the large ears in different moulds. “The finishing touches for the idols, which are coloured using spray and oil paints, need to be made at least a month in advance,” Sankar, who has been residing here for the last eight months or so, explains. At least 50 such idols have been assembled under a thatched roof shelter, where they lie waiting before shipment to their clients. These idols are also priced similarly, with a 10-feet idol, costing not less than `eight to `nine thousand
Chennai: There is always an innate magnetic pull towards Mushika Vahanan who has occupied a place in the hearts of elders and children alike.
With September 9 fast approaching, people are gearing up to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi.
Owing to environmental concerns, eco-friendly images of the Lord are being readied.
The Hindu Munnani has planned to place about 1,200 images of Lord Vinayaka with height ranging from five to 13 feet at various places in the city.
About 700 idols ranging from three to five feet in height will also be displayed during the chathurthi celebrations.“We propose to install 5,000 idols in the city for Chaturthi and immersion festival,” says A. T. Elangovan, general secretary of Hindu Munnani, Chennai.
All these idols are being made out of tapioca paste and papier-mâché. Natural dyes are used for colouring, he adds. Like Hindu Munnani, several organisations are engaged in making terracotta and clay images of Lord Ganesha. Contributed by J. V. Sivaprasanna Kumar, N. Sampath and Ganesh
It’s been more than 17 years since Manik Paul, 42, an artisan from Kolkata, has celebrated Durga Puja with his family. Paul, who is an idol maker, comes to Delhi every year just after the Rath Yatra and stays in Delhi till Diwali. In these four months, he makes clay idols for various celebrations including Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi and Kali Puja.
The premises of the dilapidated Chandralok cinema in Chittaranjan Park function as his workshop and home for these four months. A visit to his workshop, packed with beautiful idols of Durga and Ganesha in various stages of creation, for a moment make you feel like you’ve intruded a party and a gathering of the Gods.
“It’s my family business and I learned the art from my father when I was a little boy. I miss my family during this time but I come to Delhi to earn. In Kolkata, there are hundreds of idol makers and the earnings aren’t great. Every year, I get around 15 more artisans with me from Kolkata to help me,” says Paul. He belongs to Kumartuli in Krishnanagar near Kolkata, which boasts of the best clay idol makers in the country.
Proud of his lineage, Paul explains that a traditional idol from Kumartuli is made of hay supported by wooden sticks. “Most of the things for making the idol are brought from Kolkata, and include the jewellery and clothes used to adorn the Gods.”
Artsites who make Lord Ganesha idols are usually men but the idols made by the Ponarkar family in Hubli get an elegant feminine touch. It is the women of the family who have been making Ganesha idols for the past several years and what distinguishes them from others is that they make eco-friendly earthen idols as against the regular POP ones.
There are more than 10 households belonging to the Ponarkar family in the city. Women of these families are adept at preparing idols of the Elephant God using clay and natural colours.
Women of Ponarkar family begin the auspicious work of making Ganesha idols soon after Ugadi. They get clay from Heggeri, Keshwapur and Gopankoppa for Rs 2,800-3,000 per kg. Each family will make about 300 idols, to be finished in about six months. Men of the family too extend a helping hand to women in the process.
Speaking to TOI, Priya Narayan Ponarkar of Hosur, said, “I have been making Ganesha idols for the past 15 years. Preparing idols out of clay is a laborious task when compared to POP idols. Every day we get on to idol making after completing the household chores. We spend nearly 6 to 8 hours per day in making idols. I make one or two idols in a day.” Priya’s household has prepared 200 idols this year and most of them have already been sold for Ganesh Chaturthi on Wednesday.
Nanda Ponarkar, who is involved in idol making for the past 20 years said she learnt the art from the elders in the family. With the help of her family members she has made 400 idols this season.
S Kowshik, a class 1 student of a private city school is squatting inside a room full of Vinayaka idols that are to be despatched to various households in Coimbatore Tirupur, Erode and even Palakkad in Kerala. His nine-year-old cousin sister M Harini helps him brush up the idols before they are packed and dispatched. Hailing from a family of traditional Kulalaars (potters), these tiny tots will join the elders in a few years, continuing the family tradition. “I like working with my father and uncles. Sometimes, they ask me to be careful with the idols. My job is to brush the finished ones before they are packed,” says Kowshik.
At Sundakkamuthur near Ukkadam in the city, 43-year-old S Saravanakumar and his two brothers S Senthilkumar and S Yoganantham along with the rest of their family are busy giving final touches to the Vinayaka idols that will soon be immersed in water during Vinayaka Chathurthi celebrations. They claimed that it was their father P Shanmugham who taught them the trade right from a tender age.
“We used to help the adults make Vinayaka idols when we were kids just like how our children are helping us now. It is a traditional art and is passed on from one generation to next,” says S Yoganantham.
The festival also serves as an excuse for a family reunion as relatives come over to Coimbatore to help out. “We come here every year ahead of Vinayaka Chathurthi to help our brothers in getting the idols ready,” says M Jeyalakshmi, a family member from Palakkad.
But this year the family is slightly worried as their father P Shanmugham has been hospitalised due to age related health problems, although it has not affected the idol making process. More than 3000 pieces of Vinayaka idols less than two feet in height are ready to be delivered along with 450 paper mache Vinayakas. They also have idols measuring up to 13ft which cost Rs 25,000 each on delivery.
“We start our work six months in advance. Our annual calendar is divided into cycles, based on Vinayaka Chathurthi and Navaratri celebrations. For Vinayaka Chathurthi it is only Ganesha idols but for Navaratri we make Kolu dolls and other Hindu Gods and Goddesses,” says Saravanakumar.
The idol making process begins with the collection of clay from Perur Chettipalayam after seeking permission from the district administration. The clay is constantly sprayed with water to keep it wet. Clay is usually preferred for idols that are less than two feet in height while the bigger ones are made out of paper mache. They ensure that their idols are eco friendly and they use only water soluble paints. As a result the finished idols are kept covered in polythene to avoid contact with moisture.
“It is a very complex process and involves considerable brainstorming, especially for the big Vinayaka floats. People expect something different every year and this year we have made Pancha Mukha Vinayaka (five faced Vinayaka) and also bald Vinayaka without any head gear known as ‘Lucky Vinayaka,” Yoganantham adds.
The hand-made Mysore-style Ganesha is said to have distinct features, including a unique curvature to the trunk. The idols are also said to fit the description of Ganesha in slokas. The idols in demand are made of clay and devoid of paint.
Two families from Mysore who have been in the trade since the Maharajas’ rule have been sending about 80 idols abroad every year.
The families of artists B Srinivas and Revanna, fourth generation idol makers, export the idols to places like Holland, the West Indies, the United States and New Zealand. Orders are taken three months before the festival.
Srinivas, who exports 60-70 idols, said the demand has increased in the last seven to eight years. “NRIs are more eco-conscious and prefer idols without paint. The demand is not just from Mysoreans settled abroad,” said Srinivas’s son Shyam Sundar.
The idols cost between Rs 30 and Rs 40,000 each, depending on the size.
The artists also abstain from non-vegetarian food, alcohol and cigarettes for six months before they begin making the idols.
Heads are bent low, there is constant kneading of clay and fingers keep working on small figurines. Braving the hot sun or a sudden downpour these simple people at Kosapet can hardly spare a second for small talk. This is their season. This is the time when they can earn some money. It is time for their reward. Vinayaka Chathurthi helps them to make their ends meet and tide over difficulties.
Colourfully painted Ganesha idols of varying sizes (three to 13 feet) lined along the dusty narrow streets is the result of their hard work.
Figurines big and small are found everywhere in the locality. Some covered (with plastic), some still to be made and hundreds neatly stacked on the ‘thinnais’ of the clay-tiled traditional houses.
These are made by more than 450 families engaged in this trade of producing Ganesha idols for the festival on a mass scale or for individual worship. The people at Kosapet have eked out a living here for more than 50 years. “The place was earlier called Koyavanpettai (meaning clay artisan) and with passage of time it became Kosapet,” said N. Jothilingam, a long-time resident. M. Poomani, another person engaged in the trade, said that the idols are in great demand on the eve of the Vinayaka Chaturthi festival. People from far flung areas too come here to buy our figurines. The dolls cost anywhere between Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 25,000.
S. Nagarajan, a traditional doll-maker of Kosapet, said the Ganesha idols, which are mostly in sitting postures, are sourced from Villupuram and Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. He said that they have discontinued making these big idols as there is a huge gap between the economics of production and sale price. He said: “It is easier to source these idols from other places due to the seasonal kind of business.”
R. Karunakaran, a wholesale dealer and a clay artisan himself, rued that poor Government support, space constraint, several restrictions in the name of environmental pollution and the non-availability of clay forced several artisans to migrate to other parts of the State. Pointing out that it has been a long time since the artisans in the area stopped creating massive idols, he says: “At present the big Ganesha figures are being brought from Andhra Pradesh.”
ANOTHER POPULAR GROUND
With Kosapet slowly losing the ground as the capital of manufacturing clay idols, other places such as Koyambedu are becoming popular for purchasing Ganesha figurines.
Traders in Koyambedu Wholesale Market say that they get clay dolls of Ganesha from villages of Thiruvallur district and the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Sold at a starting price of Rs. 20 per piece, people prefer to purchase clay idols from the local markets of the area concerned.
S. Dharman, a part-time manufacturer and seller from Kavangarai, says that the cost of clay has been rising year after year and the failure of the Monsoon has forced him to consider continuing this business.
Ashok Sharma from Thirumullaivoyal creates idols of Lord Ganesha made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) coated with white ash. He says that the raw materials are being procured from Andhra Pradesh and that the idols are painted with water colours, which are soluble. With scarcity of skilled labourers and raw materials they have to increase the price of idols by at least by 15 per cent. A five-feet tall idol is sold for Rs. 5,500, whereas the price goes up depending on the size and workmanship. The price tag goes up to Rs. 20,000.
Though there is mass production of the clay idols in the city, the ancient art form of doll making is slowly dying because the younger generation is not interested in taking up this art form. Space constraints and sourcing of Ganesha idols at a cheaper price from other places are the other issues.