Artisans making handmade Ganesha idols facing heat from mass production

MYSURU, Aug 25:
In the run-up to the Gowri-Ganesh festival to be celebrated on September 2, the traditional clay artisans of the city are working over time to ward off the competition from bulk manufacturers of idols from other centres.
The impact of a campaign for an Eco-friendly Ganesh Chaturthi is being felt with the demand for natural-coloured idols on the rise.
Even retailers selling idols mass produced in other centres aver that a majority of the Ganeshas worshiped by households are colourless or those with light natural colours devoid of chemical colours.
The campaign launched by NGOs through schools and mass media has helped bring the transformation though brightly coloured idols too tend to be sold in large quantities.
But there is a gradual increase in Eco-friendly idols, according to artisans as also traders.
The traditional idol makers of city of palaces are dwindling fast with rapid commercialization of the festival and the entry of pop and paper pulp idols from other states. With the lessening interest in the general public about the beauty of plain clay Gowri and Ganesha idols and the unique mysore style, there is not much time left for the extinction of both our style and the artistes who have the knowledge to make them. It is imminent that the artistes turn to other professions soon after all, the artistes too have to make a living
Now the trend changed with growing popularity and greater acceptance of eco-friendly clay Ganesh idols is a testimony to the emerging trend of environmental consciousness among the people.
“There were nearly 80 to 90 artisan families in Kumbarageri (pottery town) area of the city till two decades ago,” according to Revanna, an artiste specializing in clay models with more than 25 years of experience in the field. Today, one may hardly find about 10 to 15 families engaged in making Ganesh idols, he added.
Besides, the advent of plaster of Paris idols which are rich in colour and light-weight, have made it difficult for the clay artisans.
“Though the Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) claims to have banned the POP idols and even made a show of their raids, it is only for publicity and the idols continue to be sold,” said Mr. Revanna.
A large chunk of the idols entering the city will be procured by the wholesale traders – from distant places, including Kolar, Tumakuru, and Bengaluru. But for them, trading in idols is purely an economic activity which is not so for the local and traditional artisans for whom it is also a craft to be passed on to posterity.
The festival provides employment and income to sustain them for at least five to six months in an year but with supply exceeding demand, the economic returns entailed in making idols is turning out to be low with each passing year.
“But this is a sacred task for me and many of my ilk and will not give it up despite the low returns,” said Puttaswamy, a traditional clay artisan based in Dodda Kumbarageri.
“While a majority of the youth of the present generation have taken to more lucrative forms of employment, there are a few who take pride in their ancestral craft and my son, who is studying PU II, is one of them and will keep the tradition alive for posterity,” Mr Puttaswamy added.
So, for the first time in recent years and with growing environmental awareness, the demand for clay and colourless idols has exceeded the demand for coloured ones which provides the proverbial silver lining to the fortunes of these artisans.
It takes the artisans anywhere between four to six months to prepare and make the idols. But with assembly line production of idols that flood the market, the idols that are locally made tend to be swamped out in the competition, said Mr Revanna.
An artisan like Revanna makes about 300 to 500 idols. And there may be a few others like him who may chip in with as many idols. But the remaining thousands are procured from major commercial centers.
Even retailers selling idols mass produced in other centres aver that a majority of the Ganeshas worshiped by households are colourless or those with light natural colours devoid of chemical colours. (UNI)