“This is the only trade I know, it has been mastered through generations of my family. I have gone through hard times before too, but never did I dream that one day people will not be allowed to celebrate festivals.
This year I am not even thinking of income, just managing to remain alive will be enough,” lamented Dholo Behera, a well-known artisan from the Old Town area of Bhubaneswar.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened the spirits of Durga Puja this year.
The confusing SOPs and guidelines issued by the authorities and the courts have made matters worse.
The few orders that the idol makers received were for smaller idols. Puja Committees slashed their budgets as donations became scarce.
Prafulla Swain, organiser of the Puja Pandal at the Dak Bangla Chhak says that the government’s directives restricting the height of all idols this year, and the directive to avoid soliciting donations from devotees unless it is voluntary has hit them hard.
Dholo’s small workshop is strewn with idols of Ganesha, Khudurukuni and Vishwakarma which he had made for earlier festivals. Customers did not come, and the idols still stand in his shed, gathering dust.
Many Durga idols have already been sculpted with only the painting remaining to be done. The unfinished handiwork, straw figurines on bamboo skeletons, can be seen piled up in the corners.
Even the small idols which are usually sold during Diwali have no demand this year. A few of the idol makers also make the Ravana images which are set alight during Dussehra, but the authorities have put a stop even to this.
Any assistance from the government is far from their reach.
Idol makers, whose fine craftsmanship has been the highlight of all religious festivities for centuries, suffer in silence for their daily bread.
Many of them have started looking for alternative sources of income, some even by selling vegetables.
Earlier this year, the Central Pollution Control Board had banned the use of plastic, thermocol, and Plaster of Paris in making idols of gods and goddesses for their safe and eco-friendly immersion.
As a gesture of relief, the Centre stayed the ban on POP Ganesh idols for a year. The move is too little, too late.
“I wish I had not trained my children in our traditional occupation, they could have picked up something else. Corona has stolen away our future and our identity,” says Behera.