As the Ganesh Utsav festival continues, Namma Bengalureans are busy celebrating the glory of the elephant god amidst widespread rains. I visit city’s much-loved Pottery Town and find what’s different this year.
Murali Bhoj is busy painting his trademark ‘kai ganesha’ idols when I stop by at his house in Pottery Town, Benson town. A third-generation artist, Murali began working on the idols about a month ago. “The ‘kai ganeshas’ are our specialty and we make them only during the festive season. Unlike other idols, these cannot be retained for next year, if unsold,” he explains.
The ‘kai ganeshas’, which are exclusive only in and around Bengaluru are one hundred percent eco-friendly as they are made of just clay and bamboo sticks. The minimalistic silver and gold paints only beautify the elaborate design that highlight the skilled craftsmanship of artists like Murali. “Moulding these idols takes a lot of patience and perseverance. I can only complete one idol in a day and only if I have a helping hand”, says the 37-year-old sculptor.
The ban on POP idols is a welcome change but we still see a lot of illegal Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols come into the city from places like Kolhapur and Mumbai, he adds.
The Karnataka High Court upheld the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) ban notice on PoP ganesha idols earlier this year. The January 2017 court ruling also directed KSPCB to ensure that the ban is strictly executed, following which the state board had issued directives to various district collectors and panchayat development officials to oversee its implementation.
“PoP idols are like those made of cement. They take a good two months to dissolve and also contaminate water bodies,” shared Digamber Rao who migrated with his family to Bengaluru to find full-time painting work. He was mixing poster colours with natural gum to paint clay idols made by other sculptors when I visited his workspace. “The KSPCB ban on PoP idols is a good move. But the implementation of the ban could have been better. The KSPCB should have publicised about the ban more efficiently before issuing circulars,” he added.
The ban is a step in the right direction. I’m happy about being able to contribute to a greener planet for the future generations, says an optimistic Rajshekar, a fourth-generation idol maker who has practised the craft for almost four decades.
Rajshekhar mostly caters to wholesale orders and delivers eco-friendly clay idols in bulk to various non-governmental organisations (NGO’s). Speaking of different type of such idols, he says, “I even make idols out of activated carbon. When immersed in a bucket of water, these idols end up purifying it instead of polluting it”.
Many artists in Pottery Town spoke disappointedly about the increasing hassle to procure good quality clay used to make the Ganesha idols. “Bengaluru’s dying lakes are making our job very difficult. Earlier we used to get the clay from lakes in the outskirts of the city like Jakkur. But now they are all gone - either illegally denotified or encroached upon. So, we have to now go as far as Hoskote to fetch our basic raw material,” says Rajshekar.
According to Murali Bhoj, clay brought from fresh water lake beds devoid of any contaminated sewage is ideal for their craft.
Today the prices of idols are rising owing to difficulty in acquiring quality clay. Due to this strain, the production is less. And the rates are increasing because the competition is persistent.
The life-size idols preferred by bigger pandals are all illegally imported to Karnataka from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Many craftsmen in Pottery Town say that they are not locally made. “The PoP ones are mostly made by Kohlapur artists. In Andhra Pradesh, a PoP idol ban is not even feasible due to lack of skilled artists who can make pretty clay idols. Hence PoP idols are easy options there,” says 45-year-old Digambar Rao who originally hails from Hyderabad.
In addition to the PoP idols, paper-pulp Ganeshas are also a popular trend this year. Though not as harmful as PoPs, these are made mainly of paper mash, wheat flour, chalk powder, and other chemical substances like Copper Sulfate. A small amount of dry PoP is also used in the making which renders them harmful when immersed in lakes and other water bodies. Unlike clay idols which melt away in just one day, the paper pulp ones take a longer time to completely dissolve, threatening aquatic life.
Irrespective of changing trends, it’s business as usual for artists and salesmen in Pottery Town.
Since the ban is yet to be completely executed, it’s early to predict any profits. But next year the ban should surely benefit potters who vouch for eco-friendly idols, says Digamber Rao.
“However, it doesn’t imply that artisans make more than retailers who buy idols at a wholesale price from us. The middlemen sell them for higher profit margins as they spend on transport costs and other surcharges,” he further added.
The ban on PoP Ganesha idols is also likely to affect the livelihood of a few craftsmen who have already invested in the raw materials. But it’s surely going to go a long way in protecting Bengaluru’s depleting lakes. With recent legislative backing, the ban has got more teeth. However, it remains to be seen how well it is going to be accomplished in the days to come.
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