Season of uncertainty: Hyderabad’s Ganesha idol makers fear their time has passed

Artisans make between 50 and 100 idols each year, with variations in the design, size, and artistic style
Season of uncertainty: Hyderabad’s Ganesha idol makers fear their time has passed
Season of uncertainty: Hyderabad’s Ganesha idol makers fear their time has passed
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For the artisans of Hyderabad’s Dhoolpet, there are two seasons a year: the season of the festival and the rest of the year. With Ganesh Chaturthi approaching in two months, they are furiously at work: Plaster of Paris (POP) in various stages of preparation, coconut husk and colours line the narrow maze of roads.

After migrating from Madhya Pradesh five generations ago, Surender Singh’s family has been living in Dhoolpet, continuing his family’s tradition of making idols for the Ganesha festival. But Surender feels that his generation may have faced the most uncertainty.

“This year there is pressure from the government to make idols only up to 15 feet tall,” the 45-year-old says. Earlier this month, the High Court in Hyderabad asked the state government to ensure that the government sticks to this height for idols. Following the High Court’s observations, officials of the GHMC have come to Dhoolpet to ensure compliance.

But a greater cause for dejection many of the artisans is the growing feeling that the laborious process is not worth either the input costs or the effort. “We invest so much in the production -  from materials to paints, and rent for the workshop… the returns are obviously very less,” Surender says. Giving an example, he says that he spends Rs 10,000 a month to rent a space for work and storage for the four-five months before the season. The total expenses go up to about Rs 1-1.5 lakh but the profit on that is about 5%.

In contrast, he starts his day at 9 am and works until 7 pm. “My son, who is pursuing his graduation, joins me in the afternoon and my wife also helps out sometimes. We get so involved in the work that we don't even remember that we have to eat lunch,” Surender says. It’s breakfast and then dinner for them on most days.

Artisans make between 50 and 100 idols each year, with variations in the design, size, and artistic style. Each year, Dhoolpet’s Ganeshas take on many avatars. Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy, Ayodhya Rama, Radha Krishna, Shiva Parvati, Trimukha Ganapati, Siddhi Ganapati and Lakshmi Ganapati are stored under blue tarpaulin tents to shelter them from the wind and rain. Last year, there was a Baahubali-themed Ganesha which became quite famous.

Like Surender, Rajesh Singh’s family too has been residing in Dhoolpet for the past five generations. It is said that many of Dhoolpet’s residents were brought in by the Nizam all those decades ago, and settled in the area.

“Gone are the days where there was a huge demand for Ganesha idols,” Rajesh says. He began work around April, to meet his target of 30 idols a season. But this number could go up if he gets more orders.

While he too feels the pressure of the government’s 15-feet height cap, he feels more threatened by the fact that people are more environmentally conscious and increasingly prefer clay idols to ones made of POP. This drastically reduces his profit margin, which was thin to begin with. But there is a greater worry too.

“Every pandal in Hyderabad used to have idols from Dhoolpet. But these days, artisans from Gujarat and Rajasthan are making and selling idols, because of which people have forgotten Dhoolpet idols. If this continues, we will soon have to shut shop and look for other work. My kids sometimes say that it’s better to have a job rather than making these idols,” says 35-year-old Renuka, who helps her husband make idols.

While the April-September period is when they make idols, the rest of the year it is other work that sustains Dhoolpet’s artisans.

Surender drives an auto to support his family for the rest of the year, but he’s had enough. “Once I am done saving money for my daughter's wedding, I will quit this (idol-making). We don't get good returns, and we don’t know when the government will ban POP Ganesha idols,” Surender says. He hopes that the government comes up with schemes for loans which would help them start a business. He says many people have given up idol-making they just cannot raise the money required to buy the materials. 

Rajesh however, sees things differently. “I learnt this work from my father Bhimsen, who died at the age of 70. The same way, my sons are learning the work from me. Even though we don’t have good demand for the idols, my sons want to continue the legacy,” Rajesh says. After the festival season ends, he will go back to being a labourer until the next season arrives.


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