Nitai Chandra Paul, an idol sculptor at Banglabazar in the capital, was seen etching on a pattern of divine smile on the face of a Goddess with utmost care and dedication.
But there was no smile on his own face since the pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to his livelihood.For years, in the run-up to the season of Sharadiya Durgotsab, he would make at least 20 to 25 idols, but this year is an exception.
This season the number of work orders has declined as the number of Puja mandaps (Temples) has dropped.
Moreover, some Puja committees have decided to perform Ghot Puja (A puja where a clay pot is worshipped instead of idols).
Now, Nitai is working with only 11 puja mandaps. Like him, thousands of idol sculptors across the country have been struggling to make their ends meet due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
The celebrations of Durga Puja this year will begin on October 22 with bodhan (Invocation to the goddess) on the day of Maha Sashthi and it will end with the immersion of idols on Bijoya Dashami on October 26.
With nearly a month before the biggest religious festival of the Bangalee Hindus, idol artisans are expected to see a steady stream of customers in their places, but the picture is quite different this year. It seems that the idol artisans are going to count a huge financial loss.Biswakarma Paul, a senior artisan of Shakharibazar, said, “The costs of the raw materials have increased but customers don’t want to spend that much money. I never have faced such a bad situation in three decades of my professional life.”
Tapan Kumar Karmakar, owner of Kailash Nandini Protima Ghar in Narayanganj, said, “I booked the idol artisans in advance so that I could get them during the peak season. But now I am sending most of them back as I haven’t got much work order.”
Idol artisans of the country have been going through this bad time since Basanti Puja was observed in the Bangla month of Chaitra. The idols they made earlier for other pujas remain unsold.
They thought the situation will be changed before Durga Puja. But, the reality hasn’t met their expectations.
Many puja organisers are placing orders for cheaper clay idols from rural areas. Most of them have cut their budget for celebration due to the financial crisis triggered by the outbreak of coronavirus.
Debabrata Roy, joint secretary of Wari Sarbojonin Puja Committee, said, “This year we are performing only the rituals of Durga Puja. The overall situation is not suitable for big celebrations. We are planning to set up little pandals (Temporary shed), limit the size of the idols and spend as less money as possible in other sectors.”
“The flow of donations from the devotees has reduced to a great extent because of economic crisis. Therefore, we have become bound to minimise our budget for making idols. Of course, it will affect the artisans,” he added.
In the previous years, weeks before the festival were scheduled to start, artisans struggled to find time to be with their families, and even to eat and sleep, and were busy making idols round the clock.
This year they have been able to do all these things but in an unwelcoming way at the cost of their income.