‘Clay idols don’t fetch enough’: Gulbai Tekra street comes alive ahead of festival

The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 05-08-2022 | 03:45 am

‘Clay idols don’t fetch enough’: Gulbai Tekra street comes alive ahead of festival

Ganesh idols made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) — some finished, some waiting to be painted and a few others in initial stage of work — line the Gulbai Tekra street in Ahmedabad that is bustling ahead of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival later this month. The family of Vasuben Bhati, 35, from the Baori community of Rajasthan, that has been into idol-making for the past 100 years, is not much concerned about the environmental threats raised by PoP idols.“Clay idols don’t fetch enough money,” says Vasuben who is among a group of idol-makers who make idols that range from 20 feet to half-a-foot in height.Vasuben lives in a makeshift house on one of the lanes of Gul-bai Tekra, a ghetto of “Marwaris” as they are known in Ahmed-abad, with her family of seven, including two sons, two daughters, one daughter-in-law, all in their twenties and husband, Anil Bhati, 45, who is in Diu. Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox Last month, the Gujarat government removed restrictions on the size of Ganesh idols that were imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The height of idols in public places were restricted to four feet and those at homes two feet or lower.“In two years of the pandemic, we mostly made clay idols… and sold around 50 idols,” says Vasuben. According to her, clay idols do not attract much customers and are sold at a lower price compared to the ones made of PoP. “The ones made of clay are sold at Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000,” she says.Vasuben says clay idols tend to get damaged and a damaged idol is not used for worship. “Given the nature of the soil, and these idols cannot be baked like the clay pots or diyas, used during Diwali… They take around 15 days to one month to dry. After they dry up, cracks develop, and they have to be rectified time and again,” she says, adding the PoP idols are durable and dry fast.“We also get good prices compared to the clay ones. A 10-feet idol is made in 6-7 days, within an input cost of Rs 25,000 and sold for about Rs 30,000,” says Vasuben.As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’s revised guidelines for idol immersion, “Idols made up of only natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly raw materials without any toxic, inorganic raw materials… allowed… idols made up of Plaster of Paris (PoP) shall be banned.” According to Vasuben, the family makes idols for other festivals also, such as Janmashtami, Navratri and Diwali, and work as domestic help or at construction sites, rest of the year. “Moulding of an idol takes two hours. Leather moulds of each size are available, and we make a mixture of PoP and straw and put in the leather mould. It takes at least three days to dry,” said Baijya Bhati, 22, who belongs to another family of idol-makers at Gulbai Tekra. He works for Sagan Solanki. “After the basic structure is made, other parts are cast separately and joined to the basic structure, such as the limbs of Lord Ganesh. The coating and painting of details then follows. As of now, the idols are being moulded and coated. The final detailing is done 15 days before the festival,” says Solanki, 20, who has a contract for plumbing at IIM-Ahmedabad that helps him survive the rest of the year. According to Baijya, the raw material comes from Mumbai though the sale is only for Ahmedabad. “Each of us are paid Rs 1,500 per day for moulding idols. There are no fixed hours, we work almost the whole day,” he adds. “As of now, we have made around 15 idols of different sizes. Others will be made based on orders. During one Chaturthi festival, we sell around 50-60 idols,” says Sagan. “The sample models come from Pen in Raigad district of Maharashtra. We then make leather moulds to make the replicas,” says Satra Solanki, a 55-year-old idol-maker. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) makes temporary tanks for idol immersion every year. This year, however, the guidelines are not out yet. “A plan will be prepared soon,” said an AMC official.

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