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.