Shama Nimkar and Stephen Neil Gershom
Ganesh Chaturthi, one of the well-known Hindu festivals, is celebrated in honour of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, and has been catching up recently in southern India when compared to the western parts of the country where it is celebrated with grandeur. The festival is around the corner and Bengaluru artists have hit the ground for the upcoming festival.
One of the major hubs for the Ganesh Idol production is Pottery Town. A walk down the lanes of this area with the approaching festival reflects the artistic and creative skills of the artisans and craftsmen involved in the making of these ‘murtis’. The plethora of idols and various forms given to them portray the rich culture and mythological tales behind Hinduism.
However, what’s noteworthy is that this festival is paving a path for spreading the messages of religious unity and tolerance. Yes, a festival of one particular religion brings together various other religious communities to celebrate the vibrantly auspicious festival of Ganpati Bappa, with modaks, aartis and the famous Nasik Dhols.
Pottery town is a clutter of small huts and the residents here actively participate in the festival. It’s a multi-cultural area with a church at one end and a temple at the other. Majority of the people in the areas around this locality comprises Muslims. Despite the diversity, what one would notice is the enthusiasm displayed by them to make the festival a success and an event of joy. “Nobody has ever had an objection with me painting these Ganesh idols, as work is work”, said Mr Moses simultaneously working on an idol. Moses is a Catholic who has been working on Ganesh idols for the past three years. For many, the idols are a form of income and they don’t treat the festival as an alien event.
At the end of the festival, the idols are immersed in a large body of water such as a river or a lake. The communal harmony during this festival is a sight to behold, as almost everyone in the area joins in with the festivities and the procession, especially when it is time to immerse the idols and therein lies the problem.
Most of the Ganesh idols used are all made of POP (plaster of Paris) and made to look colourful by using oil-based paints which are harmful to the environment. The Ganesh idols, which bring joy and happiness to households and locals in a particular area, are becoming a nightmare for all forms of life in and around the lakes in the city. Thankfully, this is becoming a story of the past, because worshippers have now started using eco-friendly idols made of clay.
The government’s rule of producing Ganesh idols on the grounds of ‘eco- friendliness’ isn’t implemented thoroughly this year, and plaster of Paris idols coated with acrylic paints are ruling the markets this year as well. However, they have clearly banned these idols from being sold from next year. This, combined with the introduction of eco-friendly idols, has expanded the market for these potters. Their latest invention is production of Ganesh idols with the use of cow dung, another environmental-friendly method of celebrating the Ganesh festival.
The trend of using eco-friendly idols started a few years ago when a few environment-conscious devotees decided on not polluting water bodies and disturbing aquatic life while celebrating the festival, and now the trend has increased with many more people opting for the eco-friendly Ganesh idols instead. This has now helped the lakes and their surroundings stay clean. Mr. Govardhan, an idol-maker, is happy that POP idols are being banned from next year, as everyone is becoming increasingly environment conscious. What is surprising is that, for the first time, this year, the clay idols are priced higher than the ones made of POP.
Mr. Seena, who, along with his family has been making Ganesh idols for more than 15 years, said that he never wanted to get into the lucrative world of POP idol-making because it was harmful to the environment and would pollute the lakes.
Casteism raises its head here, as the potters feel only the “Kumbaras” or potters should be in this business. These artisans in Pottery Town have their own association called “Kumbara Sangha” and only those part of this organization are allowed to make clay pots or idols in Pottery Town. The Sangha has 71 member families.
Mr. Pal, from Kolkata becomes a temporary resident of Bengaluru during the festive season every year as he and a group of artists from West Bengal come to the city for a few months to make and sell the idols. He says they do so because they get better appreciation and money for their talent in Bengaluru than back home.
Eco- friendly Ganesh murtis are made out of mud sourced from the nearest lakes. One tractor load of mud gets transformed into 50 beautiful Ganesh idols, 2 feet tall, each priced at Rs 400. The mud costs Rs 10,000. An estimate of one hour is required to attain an environment-friendly masterpiece. These murtis are plain and simple, mud-brown in colour, leaving out the coat of paint. “I started with the business of producing Ganesh idols and have been into it since my childhood. It’s been 20 years since I have been shaping the mud into Lord Ganesh,” said Mr Govardhan, (26) whose main income source are these idols.
The idols made of plaster of Paris range from a small variety to the huge ones. However, the height is much smaller compared to the sky-soaring idols seen in Mumbai such as the well- known ‘Lalbaughcha Raja’. The ‘POP’ murtis are ordered from Kolhapur, one of the ethnic religious destination of the Hindus. They are then fine-tuned with the addition of bright colours, further enhancing them by adorning them with artificial ornaments making the idols even more eye catching. The alluring murtis of Goddess Gauri are seen lined up beside the numerous elephant-headed figures. These too are made of POP as well as clay.
Their creativity goes up a notch every year. One can notice the mythological collations of different deities merged into a single piece of art. Mystical stories are portrayed through the various idols such as presenting an ascetic Shiva through Ganesh. The fusion of various ancient holy figures with Ganesh makes it appealing to the eye and draws curiosity to the story it depicts. Another notable depiction is the portrayal of Shivaji Maharaj in the form of a Ganpati.
The most important economic feature of festivals such as these is that they create an income opportunity for poverty-stricken people. The local street bands and dholwalas count on festivals such as these for a livelihood and the art and craft industry thrives during these celebrative occasions.
The life of an idol-maker in Pottery Town is one filled with hard-work and struggle, combined with truckloads of positivity. The ones who make the Idols are all potters, making clay pots and utensils until May/June every year after which they start making the Idols for the upcoming series of festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Pooja etc and around November, they get back to living the routine life of a potter.
The Potters, despite living in poverty and unhygienic conditions, look forward with a lot of positivity and are more informed about an eco-friendly lifestyle than most educated customers.