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An idol maker working on a consignment in Guwahati, Assam
An idol maker working on a consignment in Guwahati, Assam|EastMojo image
ASSAM

Idol makers of Assam: Losing to rain, high cost & Kolkata ‘crisis’

With festive season fast approaching, everyone is looking forward to the idols of Gods & Goddesses. A section of the people, however, is not too happy. Here’s why

Amlan Jyoti Das

Guwahati: With the festive season of Durga Puja fast approaching, Guwahati’s idol makers are burning the midnight oil to bring the figurines of Gods and Goddesses to life.

Turning simplest objects like hay and clay into divine deities, which are the ultimate sources of hope and faith in India, is nothing less than a work of magic by the clay-cracked hands of the idol makers.

However, not all is well for the idol makers. The rising prices of raw materials, such as Rs 350 to Rs 650 for a stack of wood, and from Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 per truck of clay, are becoming inversely proportional to the cost of labour. One studio with a dozen or two workers, toiling day and night to create as many idols possible, will sell their biggest idol for a maximum sum of Rs 60,000.

Idols in the process of completion in Matri Smriti Shilpalay in Guwahati, Assam
Idols in the process of completion in Matri Smriti Shilpalay in Guwahati, Assam
EastMojo image

The four-day fanfare that we celebrate from dawn to dusk is the result of months of preparation by the idol makers and the Puja committees. The season starts from June and continues till the end of November, starting from Vishwakarma Puja to Kali puja. This is the peak time for idol makers’ business with the peak moment being the few months before Durga Puja. As Puja committees come up with their demands for bigger idols, better than the other committees, some with a flare of uniqueness, or some in bulk, the craftsman are always kept on their toes.

“As all the raw materials come from Kolkata, the sellers create a pseudo crisis of the materials, thus causing an immediate price hike,” said Bishnu Paul, an idol worker from Kolkata who has been crafting idols for three consecutive years for the American Colony Durga Puja in Pandu.

“Being the peak season, we have no other option but to buy those high-priced materials,” he added. The idol which he is now crafting is over 13 ft tall with a total price of Rs 1.70 Lakh.

Idol maker Bikram Kumar Paul working on a consignment in Guwahati, Assam
Idol maker Bikram Kumar Paul working on a consignment in Guwahati, Assam
EastMojo image

The story is although a tad bit sadder for the local craftsmen. With the idol makers coming in from Kolkata, it creates a vacuum in the earnings of the idol makers hailing from the city.

Mihir B Choudhury, who is the treasurer for the American Colony Puja Committee, said, “We bring skilled craftsman from Kolkata for design specific idols. They are adept in creating idols which require a certain amount of finesse.” This, however, is also not the only roadblock that the local craftsmen face.

Working till 3 am in dingy quarters, the local artisans face the crisis of low space. Using their skills which have been honed for years, the idol makers depend on the natural weather conditions to get the idols to near perfection. With the city facing one downpour after another, artisans are unable to get the idols sun-dried.

“We don’t even have the space to get it sun-dried. We keep the idols on the footpaths and the dividers which at times draw the wrath of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation workers, [and] at times they even take [away] the idols,” said Bikram Kumar Paul, a local craftsman who is a third-generation idol maker form the city’s oldest studio, Matri Smriti Shilpalay in Maligaon.