Lesser Ganesh idols in Ahmedabad, scanty rainfall to blame

September 2nd, 2008 - 3:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Sep 2 (IANS) The annual Ganesh festival is celebrated with much fervour across Gujarat, but fewer idols of the elephant-headed god have been made for immersion this year due to scanty rainfall and the nearly empty water bodies.Artisans at Gulbai Tekra, the main source of Ganesh idols, say the scanty rainfall has taken the zing out of the festive season.

“This year, the rainfall has not been enough to fill up many lakes and water bodies that are nearly empty. So submerging the statues completely would be a problem. Therefore, the number of Ganesh idols made this year are nearly 20 percent less than previous years,” Ramsinh, an artisan at Gulbai Tekra, told IANS.

Gulbai Tekra is not only famous for its finely carved statues of the Hindu god, but attracts customers from states like Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as well. Hundreds of trucks carrying mould from here are dispatched to other states every year.

With the Ganesh festival beginning Wednesday, there is a wide variety of idols available in the market. The price depends upon the size of the idols and can cost up to Rs.12,000 for the bigger ones.

Traditionally, idols are made with natural ingredients like mud, clay and vegetable-based dyes. But commercialisation has led to bigger and brighter idols made of plaster of paris and toxic chemical dyes flooding the market over recent years.

However, increased environmental consciousness has led to eco-friendly idols being back in demand. A few years ago authorities banned the immersion of idols in the Kankaria lake after it realised that pollution levels had shot up in the water body. A lot of publicity was generated on the importance of using only eco-friendly idols.

Artisans at Gulbai Tekra said they bring raw materials like coconut fibre from south India to add it to the clay mould.

“Coconut fibre reduces the weight of idols and extensive use of water colours don’t pollute water bodies after immersion,” said Devji Bhati, president of the Ganesh Statue Manufacturers Association (GSMA).

Apart from scanty rainfall, artisans also rue their unhygienic living and working conditions.

Manoj Bhati, secretary of GSMA, said making idols was a laborious and time-consuming process and preparing a basic mould itself could take up to five months. Working for such long periods in dirty living conditions is tough and they don’t even have adequate storage space, he added.

“The poor workers for want of proper storage space have to keep the moulds out in the open during the year, often damaging them. They then have to make new moulds, wasting time and money,” Manoj said.

Gulbai Tekra comprises 1,300 huts and 90 percent are idol makers. The artisans say the government has not done anything to improve their living conditions.

“We have been demanding a good workplace to make our statues, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. At present we have no alternative but to carry on our work in this dirty place,” said Devji.

But if the artisans of Gulbai Tekra sell 100 truckloads of statues every year, why are they poor?

“The reason is they have no money to purchase large quantities of raw materials nor do they get any bank loan or help from any financial institution,” Manoj said.

“It is the same old story. Artisan take money from money lenders at exorbitant interest rates - from 5 to 10 percent on a monthly basis. Sixty percent of the profit goes just in servicing their debt and the rest is necessary to feed their family. It is the money lender who still rules,” he added.

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