Not many smiles this Durga Puja for the idol makers in West Bengal
Artisans have been working 17-18 hours every day for the past two-three months to make Durga idols. But, they are worried about low earnings as the cost of the raw materials, such as mud and straw, have shot up. A ground report from Howrah's Prasastha village that has 300 idol makers.
Gurvinder Singh 26 Sep 2022 6:42 AM GMT
Prasastha (Howrah), West Bengal
Almost all the families in Prasastha village have idol makers in them. Workshops where the idols are crafted line the streets in this village in Howrah district where more than 300 craftsmen, some of them fourth or fifth generation of idol-makers, are working 17-18 hours a day to finish making the Durga idols.
Durga Puja is around the corner and the festivities will kick off on October 1 and will go till October 5. Thousands of people in West Bengal look forward to the pujas, not just because Maa Durga visits them to shower her blessings, but also because their livelihoods depend on the work that is generated during the festive occasion.
"I have been making idols for the past sixty years. I began as a child working with my father," Dilip Kumar Mondal, a 74-year-old artisan of Prasastha village, told Gaon Connection. He said how Durga Pujas meant a time of prosperity and profits for the idol makers, but not any more due to the rising cost of raw materials and low earnings.
"We are working for at least 17-18 hours every day. But, despite the hard work, we are not hopeful of any profits because the cost of the raw material is high," Bijay Pal, another craftsman from Prasastha village, around 25 kilometres from Kolkata, the state capital, told Gaon Connection.
Raw material prices touching the sky
"It is true that Durga puja is being held on a grand scale after two years and there is a lot of enthusiasm among the people. We are also happy as we have work for the first time in two years, but our earnings are going to be very low," Pal said.
"Thirteen tonnes of mud we need to make the idols cost us Rs 10,000 two years ago. This year it has cost us Rs 14,000," Ramesh Halder, a 35-year-old artisan told Gaon Connection.
The artificial jewellery used to adorn the goddess that came for about Rs 1,000, is now costing them Rs 1,500, he added. "The price of straw used in moulding the idols has doubled from Rs 50 to Rs 100 a kilo. And, transportation costs have also shot up with the hike in fuel prices," Halder pointed out.
According to him, a nine foot idol of Durga that costs Rs 40,000 to make is sold at Rs 45,000. The craftsmen have to pay their assistants and helpers anything between Rs 800 and Rs 1,200 a day depending on their skill, he said.
"Idol makers will stop making idols if the situation remains the same because it takes normally two to three months to make an idol after a back breaking job of 17-18 hours per day," Mondal said.
According to Pal, those who were organising the pujas were also feeling the pinch and therefore were not ready to pay more money for the idols.
"The organisers are unwilling to loosen the purse strings. We cannot expect a profit this year but we will at least try to recover the input cost," he hoped.
Organisers count their issues
The puja organisers on their part also have their grievances. "The donations have drastically decreased after COVID. There is a huge economic crisis. We are going from door-to-door to collect donations but people are giving very less," Prabir Chatterjee, member of Amra Sabai Durgotsav Committee, one of the big ticket organisers at Andul area of Howrah district, told Gaon Connection. He said even advertisers were backing out.
"We have several expenses other than paying for the idols. This year the cost of organising the Durga Puja is coming to Rs 15 lakh," he said.