An idol-maker giving final touches to a year-old Ganesh idol in Guwahati

Guwahati: We are just two months away from Durga Puja, a festival which is celebrated with great pomp and valour in different parts of the country, particularly in eastern India. This is the time of the year when idol makers get busy to bring the figurines of gods and goddesses to life, and Puja committee members start planning to make their pandal the best in the area.

The streets are lined with Manasha Devi idos as idol makers are uncertain of the occurrence of Durga Puja this year

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However, this year, an air of uncertainty is looming over the celebrations as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in many never-seen-before difficulties.

Niranjan Pal, a fourth-generation idol maker from Guwahati, has been in the business for 55 years. “This is the first time that we have ever faced a situation as such where our only mode of income remained stagnant for six long months,” said Pal. Starting from March, occasions like Baxonti Puja and Annapurna Puja, besides many other smaller ones, have had to be given a miss, thereby putting an abrupt stop to their income.

A similar sentiment is echoed by Ashok Kumar Pal, who is a fifth-generation idol maker. “We are uncertain whether Durga Puja will be celebrated or not this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ashok said.

Niranjan Pal, a fourth-generation idol maker from Guwahati

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Subsequent lockdowns have hampered the movement of skilled idol makers from Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and Siliguri, etc, to the state. They come every year for six to seven months, work on idols, and then go back home. Curtailment of movement has also hampered the supply of raw materials like clay, wood, bamboo, and hay from different parts of the state and its capital.

Fifth-generation idol maker Ashok Kumar Pal

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These idol makers are also dependent on Puja committee members for money but the committees are themselves in a soup. Gautam Das, president of Nayantara Club, which has been organising Durga Puja for 30 years now, explained: “This year, we will celebrate the puja in a very localised and small manner. Till now, we have received no notification from the government regarding the puja celebrations.”

The club is now planning to organise the puja in a nearby temple using a small deity keeping in mind any updates that might be given by the state government.

These idol makers are also dependent on Puja committee members for money as it’s from this money that the idol makers buy the raw materials and can employ other skilled laborers under them

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According to Das, every year, they bring skilled laborers from Kolkata to make puja mandaps, electricians for lighting, and even idols are sometimes brought from there. But this year, everything has scrapped due to shortage of funds. Talking about the kind of money that is required for a regular Durga Puja celebration, he said, “We have never crossed the Rs 14-15 lakh mark.”

Even Sajal Chowdhury, a member of the managing committee of Rest Camp Kalibari Durga Puja, which attracts thousands of visitors daily during the puja days, said that the situation is quite grim this year.

Rest Camp Kalibari Dura Puja is known for its fair which usually draws the maximum number of people.

“Although no decision has been made by the government yet, we have decided to curtail the fair part of the puja this year,” said Chowdhury. “Unlike every year, when we bring idols, musicians, labourers, electricians, etc, from outside the state, this year we will stopped that practice,” he added.

According to him, the budget for Durga Puja celebrations in Rest Camp Kalibari was more than Rs 25 lakh last year. But this year, they are planning to make it a small affair owing to the COVID-19 crisis.

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