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)
With the increasing contamination of water bodies, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has asked artisans to use clay and water-based colours instead of harmful materials and paints to make idols this Ganesh Chaturthi.
“The immersion of idols made of lead-based paint and plaster of Paris pollutes water bodies. This is why we have asked Chennaiites to buy idols made of raw clay and avoid immersing a painted idol in lakes on September 19,” said a senior TNPCB official.
According to the TNPCB estimates, nearly 7,000 idols are immersed in the Greater Chennai region every year. “This drastically increases the total dissolved solids (TDS) and the acid from the paint could damage the ecosystem,” he said.
Studies of water samples sourced from the area where the idols were immersed show a drastic increase in the content of heavy metals such as iron and copper, he said. Srinivasapuram-Pattinapakkam in south Chennai, Kasimedu fishing harbour area in north Chennai and the weigh bridge in Tiruvottiyur are some of the popular places for idol immersion in Chennai.
The board has also stipulated that idols should be taken 500 metres into the sea before being immersed.
M S Karthik Varshan, an idol-maker, said papier mache and gram flour are being used for idol-making this year. “I am using water colours to paint the idols,” said Varshan. According to him, there are nearly 25 varieties of popular models in demand during the season. “The season will begin in 10 days. There are a lot of manufacturers who make 100-200 idols every season,” he said.
- Ganesha idols in the making in Chennai (mylordganesha.com)
Khairatabad Ganesh, considered the biggest and one of the most popular Ganesh Utsav mandals in the country will be unveiled to the public on September 14 for darshan. This year, the Ganesh idol will appear in the avatar of ‘Sarvaloka Mahaganapathi’, symbolising world peace and prosperity.
The mammoth Ganapati vigraha, weighing 30 tons, will be seated on a chariot driven by two airavatas (elephants), flanked by Lord Surya to his left and Tuliabhavani and Shivaji Bagavan on his right. The 55-feet high idol will be blessed by tri-murthi couples from above.
S. Sudershan, founder and chairman of the Ganesh Utsav Committee, says, “This year, T. Rajendran from our city has designed the idol. Lord Ganapati will arrive on a Shanti Rath, warding off evil and assuring prosperity. We have increased the weight of the laddoo to 3,500 kgs, and it will be prepared at Tapeswaram in Kakinada. The incense sticks will be 40 feet high. Close to 100 artists have been employed from Chennai and the work will go on for the next two months.”?
According to an organiser, S. Raj Kumar, devotees who cannot visit the Ganesh mandal during the 11-day celebration can mail their details to the committee and a special pooja will be conducted. “Elaborate security arrangements will be made for the devotees visiting the vigraha on all days and we are doing our best for the smooth running of the festival,” he said.
CHENNAI: It is a birthday that celebrates the sweetness, power and contemporary appeal of Lord Ganesha. With Ganesh Chaturthi commencing on Thursday, devotees have set up makeshift pandals across the city to house a variety of idols.
Idol makers in Kosapet said there was a lot of demand for Ganeshas in the form of social activist Anna Hazare. “He is our new hero,” said G Ashok, an idol maker. “We also made Ganeshas keeping the cricket theme in mind because India recently won the World Cup,” he said.
As there is a ban on using plaster of Paris, most idol makers have bought clay or papier-mache models from Andhra Pradesh and given finishing touches based on customer demand. In West Saidapet, R Bhoominathan got a nine-ft tall Ganesha idol with a peacock motif. “Last year, we used a lion motif. We went for something different as he is a god who comes in all avatars,” said Bhoominathan, who was busy putting the final touches to the pandal.
Special pujas were performed at various temples across the state. In some temples, ‘Ganapathy Homam’ a ritual seeking peace and prosperity, was performed as early as 5 AM.
People offered prayers to the God of knowledge and remover of obstacles and offered him ‘kozhukattai’, a sweet south Indian dish.
In Chennai, about 5,000 police personnel were deployed in areas to prevent any untoward incident. Public have been allowed to keep large size idols at 600 places, police said.
The Tamilnadu government has identified five places in the Chennai city and suburbs for immersion of Lord Ganesh idols in the sea after the Vinayaga Chathurthi festival on 11 September. A Government Order issued by Chief Secretary S Malathy said based on recommendations from Chennai City Police Commissioner T Rajendran and Chennai Suburban Police Commissioner S R Jangid, four places in the city and one in suburbs were idenitified for immersion.
In the city, the idols would be allowed for immersion in the sea at Srinivasapuram in Pattinapakkam, Kasimedu fishing harbour and Tiruvottiyur in North Chennai and Palkalai Nagar in Neelankarai.
For suburban area, the idols were allowed for immersion at Ramakrishna Nagar in Ennore. After week-long festivities from 11 September, Lord Ganesha idols, of various sizes, installed in several parts of the city and suburbs, would be brought in procession for immersion in the sea.
Meanwhile, ruling out any threat perception to the coming Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations in the city, where a number of idols would be immersed in the sea after being taken out in procession, sources in the police department said necessary steps had been taken to ensure the event passed off without any hitch.
The immersion of idols, now a popular annual event in the metropolis like in Mumbai, would be done in the middle of September, and the organisers have been issued a slew of guidelines, including the need for using eco-friendly material in making the idols and to ensure the smooth conduct of the procession.
‘An strong police force will be posted for security on the days of immersion of idols which should be done only in five notified places in and around Chennai,’ a senior police official said.
According to last year’s guidelines, the idols should not exceed 11 feet in height and should be made of eco-friendly material and only such idols will be allowed to be immersed in the sea. Also, the idols should be immersed 500 metres inside the sea.