The best idol minds, all the way from Bengal

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GANESH_Bangalore:  Ganesh idols in various guises — there’s Bal Ganesh, and one, with its trunk morphing into a dove, symbolising peace — are parked at Chandrashekar Pal’s workshop off Nandidurg Road, waiting for a final dash of colour and decoration.

Mr. Pal (41), an idol-maker from West Bengal, comes to Bangalore in time to make and sell idols for Ganesha Chaturthi, Durga puja, Kali puja, Vishwakarma puja, Lakshmi puja and Saraswati puja.

Having done this for the last 22 years, he’s fluent in Kannada, easily telling off the curious children who sneak into his workspace to touch Ganesh’s shiny dhoti and lotus-shaped eyes — “Beda, beda! Allinda ne nodi!”

Demand for Ganesh

Mr. Pal arrived in Bangalore four months ago with 13 idol-makers and a cook to begin preparations for the festival. “I spend seven months here. I go back for all the important festivals,” he says, busy giving finishing touches to Ganesha idols.

He says he sells close to 300 Ganesh idols in the city, and about 40 Durga idols during the festival.

His idols make their way to Mysore, KGF, Mandya, Hassan and even Madurai in Tamil Nadu. “This year we are making a 20-ft-tall Durga idol [to be sent to] KGF and we are also transporting a 10-ft-tall Sai Baba idol to Mysore, where the Ganesh festival organisers are devotees of Sai Baba.”

Tarun Paul (53), who has been the idol-maker for Bangalore’s Bengalee Association for 40 years, began making Ganesh idols in 1984. His father, Sudhir Paul (89), started making idols in Bangalore in 1971. They too come from West Bengal during festival season. “Locals here were impressed with our work and asked us to make a couple of idols in 1984, since then the numbers have only risen,” says Mr. Tarun, who has a workshop at Cox Town.

Cost of inputs

Mr. Pal says the artisans bring clay from the banks of the Ganga and other raw materials, including watercolour and fabric, from West Bengal. “The cost has gone up this year for us especially because of the hike in petrol prices. We are charging about 2–4 per cent more on the idols this time.” This, even as budgets of organisers have been slashed, he says.

A 5-ft Ganesh idol costs about Rs. 4,000. And, a complete set of basic idols for Durga puja, comprising Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh, Kartik and in some cases, Mahishasura, costs about Rs. 30,000.

Business challenges

However, demand for hand-crafted idols is declining, Mr. Pal rues. “Many people prefer plaster of Paris idols. We can offer novelty and tradition when it comes to idols and no one can beat us at that.”

The focus of Durga Puja here is different from that in West Bengal, Mr. Tarun says. “In Kolkata, organisers spend up to Rs. 2 lakh on Durga idols, but here, the cultural programmes and food take up most of the budget and organisers are willing to spend about Rs. 25,000 on Durga idols.”

Their turnover during the festival season is more or less the same in Bangalore as in West Bengal. “If not for us, how will probashi (non-resident) Bengalis celebrate their most important festival?” he asks.

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