Listening to some old Hindi songs in a dimly lit room with mud and colour all over his clothes, idol-maker Pritam Thorat was painting an eco-friendly Ganpati when I walked in. He immediately asked his friend, who was helping him colour, to lower the volume of the music and welcomed me to his workshop. Without disturbing their work, I quietly grabbed a chair soaking in the surrounding which was replete with incomplete idols, red soil and paint.
For Thorat, making eco-friendly Ganpatis has become a full-fledged business this year. He had previously only conducted workshops and imparted the art of making idols to his students. Speaking about how he started making Ganpatis, the 25-year-old said, “I had an attraction for Ganpati stalls since childhood. I always wanted to have a stall but had never imagined that I will also make the idols.”
Being an environmentalist, Thorat is promoting eco-friendly idols. “The Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols are not biodegradable. PoP reduces the oxygen levels in the water, which ends up affecting the marine life. But the eco-friendly idols dissolve within 15-20 minutes and do not harm the environment,” he said.
“The PoP idols take nearly five-six months to dissolve. We get to see the dishevelled and broken idols floating on the water for days after the visarjan. In a way, this is an insult to the God whom you are welcoming into your home during the festival and worshipping,” he added.
Speaking about the process of making eco-friendly idols, Thorat said, “It starts with making a dough with clay and water. It is a strenuous process and requires physical strength. The dough is kept for a day and then filled in the moulds — there are different moulds for hands, body, legs, etc. Later, the parts are removed from the moulds and glued together. It takes nearly eight to 10 days for the idol to dry after which the colouring process begins. For colouring, we prefer acrylic colours over oil paints.”
Taking about the making of PoP idols, Thorat said, “The PoP idols do not require so much work. The PoP liquid is poured in rubber moulds — it’s a single mould and not separate ones for different body parts like for the eco-friendly idols — and within 10 minutes the Ganpati is ready. Later, they have to only spend time colouring the idol,” he added.
The Pune-based idol maker also gave me a history lesson behind the installation of Ganpati idols at our homes. “Earlier, the idols were almost thumb size. There was no professional equipment to make the idols. Idol-makers would simply take mud and add panchamrit (a mixture of cow milk, curd, honey, jaggery and ghee) into it. Farmers would add seeds in the mixture and mould it as well as they could in the shape of a thumb-sized Ganpati. Later, the seeds would sprout and these saplings were then planted in the farms, thus marking the commencement of the sowing season,” said Thorat. Later, making Ganpatis turned into a money-minting business, he added.
Even as the Bombay High Court has banned the immersion of PoP idols, Thorat believes that it cannot be implemented as most people prefer buying them owing to its low cost. “There are people who are opting for the eco-friendly idols. However, a large section still opts for the PoP ones. The main reason is the cost. A 13-inch eco-friendly Ganpati costs Rs 1,800 while the same size PoP idol is for Rs 600. Hence, people prefer the PoP ones. There are also those who want to buy eco-friendly idols, but bargain at the stalls not taking into consideration the hard work that goes into making them,” he added.
With the COVID-19 pandemic dampening celebrations for the second consecutive year, Thorat said he has made around 120 idols this year and nearly 80% of them are booked without putting up any stall. “I’ve only made the idols in two-three months and the response has been really good. I hope the coronavirus goes away. Hopefully, next year I will be able to increase the number of Ganpati idols,” he added.
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