Restrictions on Puja celebrations has pushed sculptors and artists in Jharkhand into penury

Restrictions on Puja celebrations has pushed sculptors and artists in Jharkhand into penury

Restrictions on Puja celebrations has pushed sculptors and artists in Jharkhand into penury

Over 200 artists in Dhanbad, including sculptors and painters, traditionally engaged in idol-making have been waiting for the pandemic restrictions on religious celebrations to lift as they struggle to cope with losses for the second year in a row.

Dhanbad: Dulal Paul (67) is well-known in Dhanbad for his giant, elaborate idols of Hindu gods and goddesses; they range between 8-15 feet and sell for as much Rs 25,000-50,000 each. Usually, his workshop at Luby Circular Road of Dhanbad is extremely busy during the second half of the year, thanks to the string of Hindu festivals that kicks off in September, starting with Ganesh Chaturthi, Vishwakarma Puja, Durga Puja, Kali Puja and culminating in Saraswati Puja. 

He has a full-time staff of 10-12 artists from West Bengal, earning Rs 10,000-12,000 per month. Together, they usually make about 60 idols during the entire festival season. Last year had been a whitewash but they hoped to be able to return to form this year. 

However, since February they have barely received orders for 20 idols, that too modest ones of 6-7 feet, his son Abhishek Paul said. “Since the covid situation had improved significantly in January-February this year, we purchased a huge quantity of raw materials, expecting full-fledge Durga puja celebrations this year. We even start making the idols,” he said. 

But the second wave arrived and uncertainty set in about the scale of celebrations that will be permitted by the administration this year. In Paul’s workshop, like other’s across the city, the blame is squarely laid at the feet of the government; their delay in spelling out detailed guidelines regarding the celebrations has deepened the uncertainty among puja committees who are not coming forward to place orders.

Dulal Paul at his workshop in Dhanbad (Picture credit - Praduman Choubey)

Now large stocks of raw materials including clay, rice husk, jute fibre, maida paste, stoles, sticks and bamboo are wasting away in their workshops, adding to their losses. Prominent workshops like Paul’s are also deep in debt because they have a sizable stock of unsold idols. Many of their hired artists have been compelled to find daily wage work. 

There are an estimated 200 artists in Dhanbad city, about half of them sculptors and the rest painters, engaged in the craft. 

In addition to meeting local demand, these idols are also supplied to different regions in Bihar and some adjoining areas of West Bengal during Durga puja. But with muted celebrations over the past two years, demand has fallen sharply and these artists are facing some of their most challenging times. “We have not received any orders from outside locations and this is one of our significant sources of income; we used to receive at least 10-15 orders for Durga idol every year from places like Biharsarif, Ara (Bhojpur), and Nalanda in Bihar besides nearby places of Asansol in West Bengal, where we used to visit to make the idols,” said Paul.

Most of them are family businesses handed down over generations. Paul and the family convinced his younger brother Abhijeet, who has a degree in hotel management, to quit work two years ago and join the workshop. But given the change in circumstances since then, Paul said he regrets the decision. 

“We never imagined that such a situation will come to our profession,” he said, pointing at the four unsold Ganesh idols in their godown. They only made eight this year and weren’t even able to sell all of it. In a good year, they make and sell at least 20 idols for Ganesh Chaturthi. 

“We are somehow sustaining despite the slump in idol-making as we have diversified to other areas like making fibre statues for use in offices, malls, residential complexes,” Paul said. 

Swapan Paul (69), a resident of Police Line in Dhanbad, has been in this traditional profession for over four decades and rued how each year is becoming worse compared to the previous one. Last year he could barely manage to earn one-sixth of what he usually does; he got fewer orders for smaller idols because of government guidelines to hold smaller community pujas.

Idols lying half-completed in Swapan Paul's workshop (Picture credit - Praduman Choubey)

“This year the situation seems to be worse due to lack of government guidelines so far. We have not received any orders from puja committees for Durga idols. So far, we have managed by selling around 20 small Ganesha idols of about four feet at the cost of Rs 4,000-5,000 each,” Swapan Paul said. 

“Youth are not interested in joining the profession,” he continued. “Rather, over the last two years, many have left the job and have been compelled to work as daily wage labourers.” 

Gaurav Singh (30), son of a renowned Jharia-based painter Bhushan Singh, said “It’s not only the sculptors but a large number of painters who used to eke out a living by painting background scenery at puja pandals are equally affected.”

“Though we also used to make the background sceneries of pandals and other decorations, we have not received any calls from puja committees this year. We are managing by doing various kinds of wall writing and painting work for agencies like Dhanbad Municipal Corporation across the town,” he said, adding that not all have been as lucky. Many artists who have been in the profession for several decades have been left with no other option but to sell vegetables by the roadside or work as construction labourers.

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