Category Archives: Ganesha Idol Makers
Artsites who make Lord Ganesha idols are usually men but the idols made by the Ponarkar family in Hubli get an elegant feminine touch. It is the women of the family who have been making Ganesha idols for the past several years and what distinguishes them from others is that they make eco-friendly earthen idols as against the regular POP ones.
There are more than 10 households belonging to the Ponarkar family in the city. Women of these families are adept at preparing idols of the Elephant God using clay and natural colours.
Women of Ponarkar family begin the auspicious work of making Ganesha idols soon after Ugadi. They get clay from Heggeri, Keshwapur and Gopankoppa for Rs 2,800-3,000 per kg. Each family will make about 300 idols, to be finished in about six months. Men of the family too extend a helping hand to women in the process.
Speaking to TOI, Priya Narayan Ponarkar of Hosur, said, “I have been making Ganesha idols for the past 15 years. Preparing idols out of clay is a laborious task when compared to POP idols. Every day we get on to idol making after completing the household chores. We spend nearly 6 to 8 hours per day in making idols. I make one or two idols in a day.” Priya’s household has prepared 200 idols this year and most of them have already been sold for Ganesh Chaturthi on Wednesday.
Nanda Ponarkar, who is involved in idol making for the past 20 years said she learnt the art from the elders in the family. With the help of her family members she has made 400 idols this season.
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.
The hand-made Mysore-style Ganesha is said to have distinct features, including a unique curvature to the trunk. The idols are also said to fit the description of Ganesha in slokas. The idols in demand are made of clay and devoid of paint.
Two families from Mysore who have been in the trade since the Maharajas’ rule have been sending about 80 idols abroad every year.
The families of artists B Srinivas and Revanna, fourth generation idol makers, export the idols to places like Holland, the West Indies, the United States and New Zealand. Orders are taken three months before the festival.
Srinivas, who exports 60-70 idols, said the demand has increased in the last seven to eight years. “NRIs are more eco-conscious and prefer idols without paint. The demand is not just from Mysoreans settled abroad,” said Srinivas’s son Shyam Sundar.
The idols cost between Rs 30 and Rs 40,000 each, depending on the size.
The artists also abstain from non-vegetarian food, alcohol and cigarettes for six months before they begin making the idols.
Heads are bent low, there is constant kneading of clay and fingers keep working on small figurines. Braving the hot sun or a sudden downpour these simple people at Kosapet can hardly spare a second for small talk. This is their season. This is the time when they can earn some money. It is time for their reward. Vinayaka Chathurthi helps them to make their ends meet and tide over difficulties.
Colourfully painted Ganesha idols of varying sizes (three to 13 feet) lined along the dusty narrow streets is the result of their hard work.
Figurines big and small are found everywhere in the locality. Some covered (with plastic), some still to be made and hundreds neatly stacked on the ‘thinnais’ of the clay-tiled traditional houses.
These are made by more than 450 families engaged in this trade of producing Ganesha idols for the festival on a mass scale or for individual worship. The people at Kosapet have eked out a living here for more than 50 years. “The place was earlier called Koyavanpettai (meaning clay artisan) and with passage of time it became Kosapet,” said N. Jothilingam, a long-time resident. M. Poomani, another person engaged in the trade, said that the idols are in great demand on the eve of the Vinayaka Chaturthi festival. People from far flung areas too come here to buy our figurines. The dolls cost anywhere between Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 25,000.
S. Nagarajan, a traditional doll-maker of Kosapet, said the Ganesha idols, which are mostly in sitting postures, are sourced from Villupuram and Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. He said that they have discontinued making these big idols as there is a huge gap between the economics of production and sale price. He said: “It is easier to source these idols from other places due to the seasonal kind of business.”
R. Karunakaran, a wholesale dealer and a clay artisan himself, rued that poor Government support, space constraint, several restrictions in the name of environmental pollution and the non-availability of clay forced several artisans to migrate to other parts of the State. Pointing out that it has been a long time since the artisans in the area stopped creating massive idols, he says: “At present the big Ganesha figures are being brought from Andhra Pradesh.”
ANOTHER POPULAR GROUND
With Kosapet slowly losing the ground as the capital of manufacturing clay idols, other places such as Koyambedu are becoming popular for purchasing Ganesha figurines.
Traders in Koyambedu Wholesale Market say that they get clay dolls of Ganesha from villages of Thiruvallur district and the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Sold at a starting price of Rs. 20 per piece, people prefer to purchase clay idols from the local markets of the area concerned.
S. Dharman, a part-time manufacturer and seller from Kavangarai, says that the cost of clay has been rising year after year and the failure of the Monsoon has forced him to consider continuing this business.
Ashok Sharma from Thirumullaivoyal creates idols of Lord Ganesha made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) coated with white ash. He says that the raw materials are being procured from Andhra Pradesh and that the idols are painted with water colours, which are soluble. With scarcity of skilled labourers and raw materials they have to increase the price of idols by at least by 15 per cent. A five-feet tall idol is sold for Rs. 5,500, whereas the price goes up depending on the size and workmanship. The price tag goes up to Rs. 20,000.
Though there is mass production of the clay idols in the city, the ancient art form of doll making is slowly dying because the younger generation is not interested in taking up this art form. Space constraints and sourcing of Ganesha idols at a cheaper price from other places are the other issues.
Brothers Prabhakar Rao, Ramachandra Rao and Sudhakar Rao, took over the tradition from their late father Mohan Rao and make Ganesha idols without using moulds, oil paints, plaster of Paris or any other chemical substances .
Raos start accepting the orders from the auspicious day of Chitra Nakshatra, the birth star of Lord Ganesha, which comes about two months before the Ganesh Chaturthi. The work commences as and when devotees bring peeta (wooden seat) for the idol. The clay with which idols are made is brought from Sujirkars Tile Factory. “We use straw and clay to make idols and instead of oil paints, we use lead-free colours that do not contaminate water. The size of Ganseha idol varies between one foot and 12 feet,” said Prabhakar Rao. The family makes the idols at their home, Sri Ganesh.
The family does not charge their customers. However, they accept a Dakshine that the customers give them with ‘phala-thamboola’ (coconut -beetle nut leaves). “For us it is not a business. We are just continuing the tradition handed over to us by our father. All of us have our own business. We do not fix a price for Ganesha idols. We accept whatever devotees give us, happily,” says Ramachandra Rao.
This year the family has received 194 orders including one each from the UK and the US.
Mulky Panduranga Sharma, a member of Santhana Dharma Kendra Association, San Jose, California has been taking Ganesh idols made by the Raos to the US for the past 18 years. The association celebrates the festival for five days and nearly 500 devotees attend it.
For Dr Srisha Shenoy, Ganesh Chaturthi is not complete without the idols made at Sri Ganesh.
He keeps the idols at Wrexham Memorial Hall in UK during Ganesh Chaturthi.
The city’s water bodies may get a significantly lesser dose of toxic paint and Plaster of Paris this Ganesh Chaturthi as the number of people opting for eco-friendly idols has gone up going by the brisk sales of such idols. In the last three years, the increase in demand for these idols has resulted in more craftsmen from West Bengal, who are known for their sand and clay work, coming down to the city every year during this season. With the festival fast approaching, these idol makers are busy applying the final touches to their creations.
“In the past few years, business has improved here as people are now more aware about the environment. Three years ago, selling our stock was a herculean task, but this time the demand is much more than the total number of idols being made,” said Lakshmi Narayan, a seller at Chaderghat who has been in the business for around 10 years.
Three years ago, there were just a handful of sellers of mud idols. Now, around 30 temporary sheds called karkhanas are found in areas like Chaderghat, Balanagar, Afzalgunj, Uppal, Alwal, Miyapur, Shivarampally and others where the idol makers stay and work on the idols. Chandra Pal, a mud idol seller for the past 20 years said, “The newer ones are at Miyapur, Uppal, Rakshapuram near Barkas and Shivarampally. With so many competitors entering the business, it is getting increasingly difficult to find land for setting up karkhanas too.” He added that this year, after several representations, GHMC agreed to give permission to put up a temporary shed which will be taken down once Navratri begins, only after a meeting with the sellers which was held last month.
Despite the initial hurdles, these idol sellers are not complaining as business has picked up immensely this year. With profit margins ranging from Rs 75 000 to Rs 1 lakh on a total investment of around Rs 1 lakh, sellers are optimistic about making the most of the festival. “The price of medium-sized idols of around 10 feet in height ranges from Rs 10 000 to Rs 35 000. Until 2009, getting around 20 to 30 customers was considered a good season and even they would bargain heavily. But this year, nearly 100 customers have already approached us and our investment is likely to double,” said Nagarani Nagesh, another seller in the city.
The idol makers from West Bengal spend about two to eight months here, living in temporary sheds and meticulously working on the elaborate designs which are sometimes requested by customers.
Ranjit Pal, one such craftsman at Alwal said, “I have been coming here with my father for the last 25 years. We come in January and leave only after Diwali as we also make Durga and Kaliidols for Dasara and Kali puja. We get to spend just a couple of months with our family in Kolkata. But the demand here is growing and there is a lot of scope, so we keep coming every year.”
To have one god staring down on you can be unnerving enough. That’s what makes a trip to the lanes of Kosapet worth a visit. Every nook, cranny and empty space along the narrow streets are lined up with riotously-coloured Ganeshas. You can almost feel the eyes of the hundred Ganeshas following you as you walk down the streets. It is that time of the year—the run up to Vinayaka Chaturthi festivities— when Kosapet becomes a surreal zone of work and worship. Worshipped for being the ‘destroyer of obstacles’ these hundreds of six-foot Ganeshas stand wrapped in transparent plastic sheets to protect them from the vagaries of the rains that lashed Chennai recently.
By the time households across the city and its suburbs celebrate Vinayaka Chaturti on September 19, the streets of Kosapet will stand restored to their emptiness. But it is not emptiness that is on the minds of the artisans and idol sellers in Kosapet. For the artistans, this is the period they work for throughout the year. This is the only time of the year when they make the money which will sustain them for a year as well as be the seed money for the next year’s business.
It is not uncommon to see some of the artisans stooped over, squinting at a Ganesha, gingerly approaching him with a paint-tipped brush. These cosmetic changes done, they draw back slowly to look at their work with intense concentration, even as local kids run about tunelessly tapping the paper mache Vinayakas.
The workshops though are a different aural experience altogether. A thick blanket of silence engulfs them, with heads bowed in concentration shaping or painting a trunk or a palm, punctuated by the heated bargaining of vendors and clients. Before the cries of Ganapati bappa moriya’can rent the air, there is much to be seen and heard at these spaces, where veneration is given shape to. Only then will Ganapati come earlier the next year.
A row of large statues of Ganesha, finely crafted and exuding an air of benevolence, fills one side of the tent that is home to 53-year-old Mularam and his family.
The statues are meant for sale ahead of Ganesh Chaturthi on September 19, but the family got a head start because the work is intricate and time-consuming. As Mularam’s wife Shanthi, 48, cooks lunch, their children, Suresh, 22, Sivani, 20, and 14-year-old twins Savitha and Mukesh provide finishing touches to the plaster of Paris statues. The head of the family is busy casting the mould.
“One sculpture takes at least five days to complete and sells for anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000,” says Suresh. “All of us work together for 10 to 12 hours each day to ensure that our statues are the best,” adds Savitha.
The family pays 3,000 as rent for the accommodation and hires a spray painting machine during peak season to make as many statues as possible. “Our total expenses are more than 10,000 per month so we are barely able to make ends meet,” says Mularam. “During the off-season we make small Krishna idols meant for interior decoration, priced from 100 to 2,000.”
Suresh says the family came to Chennai because there was no way to make a living in Jodhpur. “The desert has neither water nor employment for the poor,” he says. “We are hardy people but few people there appreciated our craft. At least we can make a living in Chennai.”
Mularam says the craft of sculpting was passed down through generations of his family. “It requires a lot of hard work and perseverance,” he says. “I used to work with clay earlier but plaster of Paris is more versatile. I can use the material to etch out even the slightest of details.”
The important thing is to get the texture of the mixture right, Mularam says. “When the plaster starts to form small beads on top of water, I know that the balance is correct,” he says.
Mularam says many customers contact him before Ganesh Chaturthi. “We hope to sell 15 idols this season. People don’t mind paying a little extra for beautiful Ganesha statues,” says Shanthi.
None of the children go to school and the craft does not come under the purview of government support programmes. “Who will pay for food if we leave our work and attend school?” asks Mukesh. “Neither my grandfather nor my father attended school. We are happy here and as long as customers appreciate our craft, we will continue making sculptures.”
- Ganesha idols in the making in Chennai (mylordganesha.com)
S. Saravana Kumar of Rajavalli Shanmugam Arts is a busy man, now that Vinayagar Chathurthi is here
Off the Ukkadam tank, in a dusty by-lane lined with godowns, is a room packed with colourful Ganesha idols. They stand on the floor, hundreds of them, in pink, yellow and green, with beetle eyes and golden necklaces. A few weeks from now, they will be worshipped on a pedestal in a household in Coimbatore, Pollachi or Mettupalayam by doting devotees. But for now, they will have to make do with S. Saravana Kumar, their creator. He sits amongst them, a paint brush in his hands as he speaks:
Every day, after school, I would come here to watch my father make kalimann bommais. He was an expert. I sometimes helped around, doing touch-ups and other simple tasks. I liked being here, liked what I saw and did. After class XII, I joined my father. Our company is called Rajavalli Shanmugam Arts. There are eight people working for us, most of them family members. We make clay and papier-mâché idols.
We work throughout the year. A few days after Vinayagar Chathurthi, we start making kolu bommais. It takes about 20 days to make each bommai. The clay is filled into a mould to give the idol form. It is left to dry for about two weeks, after which we apply a layer of chalk powder and adhesive on it. Once the idol dries, we paint it.
These days, we have to be extra careful when we work, as even a minor mishandling could damage the idol. But this was not the case in the past. We can sense a change in the clay — it is not what it used to be. Our hands tell us that it is polluted. We used to make clay idols four feet tall, but this is impossible now. The clay is not strong enough, and we can go only a little over two feet tall.
Not for my children
This year, the Public Works Department has imposed stringent conditions for taking clay from the tanks. I went through a lot of hassles for a task that was so simple. And I don’t earn much, which is why I employ family. So there is no way I would encourage my children to take after me. It’s a difficult life even now; imagine how it will be in the future.
I’m still doing this for the satisfaction I get when I see gods taking shape in my hands. People pray to my idols, garland them and pay their obeisance to them. I’m thankful to God for giving me this honour. It’s a tricky thing, you know, making clay idols. You need to apply your mind; it’s like meditation. If you let your thoughts stray while at work, the idol will give you away. But Ganesha has always been an exception. He has saved me many times; he never gives away my mistakes.
When I make idols for temples, I leave the task of painting the eyes to the end. Something happens when I paint them — I feel God is looking me in the eye. So I hold a mirror to the idol’s face and paint the eyes using the reflection as a guide.
Some people invite me for immersion functions during Chathurthi. But I do not like to see my idols drown. It makes me sad. I stay away from these events. But, it’s a cycle and I know it’s important that it runs smooth. I tell myself that an idol immersed in Coimbatore might become the raw material for a craftsman in Pollachi. I can put up with a lot of things in life. But if someone looks at my idols and says, “Idhenna, verum kalimann dhane” (this is only clay), I will be shattered. It is so much more.
- Ganesha idols in the making in Chennai (mylordganesha.com)
Pattnaik’s 3.5-metre sand sculpture bearing message – “Save The Sea Life” – won in ‘People’s Choice’ and ‘Best Positive’ sculpture categories.
Pattnaik used about 1,000 tonnes of sand to build the sculpture.
Pattnaik has participated in more than 50 international sand art competitions across the globe and won many accolades.