Our factory is about complete seventy seven years. Ten craftsmen along with me churn out some 2,500 Ganesha idols each year. Ganesha is our only story.
Years ago I had seen my humble father worshipping Ganesha with all his devotion and preparing these idols. Those days’ people were not so much aware or educated or particular about the composition of idols. My father wasn’t formally trained with sculpting skills. He started working on Ganesha idols because he loved doing this. Ganesha was his life; his passion; also he had a basic understanding of the art. Competition and commercialisation wasn’t so apparent during his days. He didn’t make huge idols with impossible embellishments to win awards. His work though, was perfect when it came to the descriptions of the God as elaborated in all religious manuals. His honesty and integrity got us recognition, and eventually customers. He set up a factory to service the increasing demands and built up a team.
He left with us a pre-designed process and his spirit of submission to Lord Ganesha.
Every year we start making Ganesha idols during Dussera. First we worship the soil with which we are supposed to construct the idol. We make a small idol with that soil and seek blessings before we formally start our work every year.
We use the “Shadu” soil to prepare eco-friendly Ganapati. This soil is sourced from Bhavnagar in Gujrat. By Holi we finish all the construction work. After Holi we don’t make any new idol as a principle. We dedicate ourselves only to the finishing work of the idols till Akshay Tritiya (March/April). From Gudi Padwa we start painting of the idols.
During my father’s times, the construct of Ganesha idols were different than what it is today. Designs and ingredients were old fashioned, and to some extent, mechanical. When we make the idols today, they never violate the descriptions as specified in the holy books. We draw our references from Shri Ganesh Kosh. We frame our idols based on different stories of the Lord, and the themes behind his various names. Perhaps we are more creative and experimental in our offerings, or so I feel, having acquired a degree in sculpting and clay-modelling before venturing into idol-making. We are better prepared to approach the task and know the proportions and blends better. Formal education makes work easier as we have to spend less time in wondering what structure would require what kind of material. We have been trained into that already.
Those days I was known as “Murtikaar ka ladka” (son of the idol maker). I was in the first year of my graduation. K.P. Medhekar was the commissioner of police then. In 1980, there was a strike; that year the police department didn’t take any idol from us. Next year when he came to us to take Ganpati, he fell on my feet. Being such a senior and well-placed person, he respected the idol makers as if they were God himself! That was an eye-opener for me as well. It felt, the work that we are into must be as pure and noble, to be deserving this kind of treatment from such a respected person.
In the days to come, we won many awards. Our customers today are spread from VT station to the main puja of Shivaji Park to Dharavi. Our customers trust us. Often the themes, designs and stories are left to us. In 1992, we made one big Ganesha idol and had ninety nine smaller idols surrounding and supporting him. In 1993, we showed the union of Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara within the same Ganapati construction. In 1994 we designed the Ganesha idol such that it simultaneously celebrated the harmony of Radha Krishna. We won the first prize for all three years.
I have been doing this job for the last 35 years. And I have seen the market changing. Earlier the priests took time to pronounce the chants; they hosted the rituals more elaborately. Today no one has time. The priest has to finish the puja at one house and rush to the next; the households need to get back to work. Those who brought Ganpati home for ten days once upon a time, have today reduced it to one and a half days. Yet, this generation too has its own language of dedication and devotion. In their own way they love the Lord. That’s what keeps the Ganpati Utsav going. And that’s the spirit which gets translated across generations. Whether a thirty feet idol or a two feet idol, whether he adorns homes for ten days or one and a half days, year after year Lord Ganesha is celebrated and worshipped, and he leaves for the earthlings, his blessings of prosperity and happiness.