Mumbai’s ganesh mahotsav gets a big helping hand from Bihar

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As the city prepares for its favourite festival —-Ganeshotsav, it is talent from Bihar that’s driving the local idol-making industry. these days. In the workshops of Lower Parel, where statues and figurines are produced on a mass scale, most of the artisans now are from the northern state.

“Around 98% of the workers at Lalbaug workshops have come from Bihar,” says Raju Shinde, a 37-year-old head artisan who hails from Maharashtra and manages a team of mostly migrant workers from Bihar and Jharkhand.

Shinde picked up his love for crafting intricately sculpted Ganesh idols from local masters, having caught the bug as a schoolboy. “Since the time I was five years old, I would run right after school to catch the artisans making Ganpati idols and would stay back to assist them for hours,” says Shinde.

Devotees carry an idol of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh for immersion into the Arabian Sea on the last day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai, September 29, 2012. Ganesh idols are taken through the streets in a procession accompanied by dancing and singing and later immersed in a river or the sea symbolising a ritual seeing-off of his journey towards his abode, taking away with him the misfortunes of all mankind. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash (INDIA – Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY) ORG XMIT: MUM10

Now he is passing on his skills to young apprentices, most of them from Bihar. “The way to learn is to observe. They keep watching me craft the murtis and eventually develop a knack for it,” says Shinde.

Shinde and his wards sculpt idols from 8am to 10pm every day during the lucrative four months before Ganesh Chaturthi.

Many of the men who flock to the city from Bihar during these months are barely older than 20. Each year more tag along. Novices are paid a daily wage of Rs 300 to Rs 400. Those who graduate to a higher level of skill are paid Rs 800 to Rs 900.

Anil Soni has been transiting from his home in Bihar to the city for 22 years.

“I used to sell goods at a stall outside CST until my friend introduced me to the idol workshops; I picked up the skill quickly enough and since then have stuck by it,” says Soni. “When I go back to Bihar, I continue to mould smaller idols and sell these to families. Sculpting idols is better because it is more than just a job. The income is good and it is a skill that will always ensure I have work.”

Uday Khatu, a Lalbaug workshop owner, says locals do not want to dedicate their time to a seasonal venture.

“They get better opportunities elsewhere with higher pay than in idol-making,” says he. “This work is seasonal and locals want employment through the year.”

Dharam Soni, another worker from Bihar, has been into idol-making here for 15 years. “This life is hard and unstable but I have no other option,” says he. Dharam says many of the men from Bihar who choose this line hail from goldsmith families and other artistic guilds and take naturally to sculpting idols.

After Ganesh Chaturthi, Dharam will travel to Delhi in September to prepare idols for Dussehra.

Babu Rawle, the owner of Siddesh workshop in Lalbaug, says workers from Bihar make business sense. “Since the workers from Bihar have no place to stay, they sleep in the workshop at night. I have noticed that locals come for a few days and then start bunking work or put in fewer hours than the Bihari workers,” he says.
Rawle’s workshop has around 40 artisans, but only five are from the city. One of the five is Santosh Shirke, a Lalbaug resident. “I work as an electrician through the year but during the monsoon the business gets risky. That is when the Ganpati workshops are in full flow, so I lend a hand and earn some income from it,” says Shirke.
Idols at these workshops come in many sizes and are made to order in the trendiest designs. “This year the Bahubali theme is selling like hot cakes. We sketch the design according to the mandal’s specifications and prepare the idols from scratch to finish,” says Shinde.
He says the largest idol made at the workshop this year is 21 feet tall and costs Rs 1.5 lakh. The workshop makes idols that stand as tall as eight feet for delivery to places as far away as Kashmir and even the West Indies. The idols are sculpted, primed, painted and put on a flight to their destination.
Source: TNN TOI

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