Hyderabad: The COVID-19 crisis has struck traditional artisans who make idols for Ganesh festival and Durga Puja (Dussehra). At least 15,000 artisans affected in the Dhoolpet area alone have financial losses running into several lakh rupees. They have also threatened to stage a protest at the State Assembly if the government does not intervene.
Dhoolpet is the oldest and probably largest locality of idol makers, abutting Hyderabad’s Old City area. This place is inhabited by people who migrated from Uttar Pradesh and other northern states during the time Asaf Jahi (1724-1948) or the Nizam era. The then rulers had helped these people settle in the area, which eventually became popular for its Ganesh idols, while they now also make idols of other gods and goddesses.
During this time of the year, with Dussehra around the corner in October, Dhoolpet used to be choc-a-bloc with buyers of Durga Mata (post Ganesh Chaturthi). However, its lanes are now deserted and the atmosphere is also gloomy.
Kailash Singh Hazari (38), is one of the most well-known idol makers of Dhoolpet, as it a family-run business for him. The practice for him is a century old, as it was started by his great grandfather. Popularly known as Murthi Kalakar, Hazari usually has 10 daily-wage workers busy sculpting gods and goddesses this time of the year. “But there are just two now,” he mentioned.
“Within a week of lockdown, we lost orders worth four to five lakh rupees for Ganesh festival,” lamented Hazari. A storeroom in his house is also filled with countless Ganesh idols and clay idols of Durga, all unsold. Other artisans also said that they are getting orders only for small idols of 3 to 5 feet, which according to them doesn’t give much profits.
Artisans in Dhoolpet usually start receiving orders from various districts and other states immediately after Ganesh Chaturthi, after which they slowly start purchasing raw materials like stacks of bamboo poles, wood, clay, a pile of dry grass, ornaments, etc. Since the country went under series of lockdowns, orders were canceled one by one.
Another artisan from Dhoolpet, Manoj Singh said that for the Durga Puja festival, they have prepared over 3000 idols, hoping that it would be sold as there are no restrictions for the pandal organizers now.
Hazari also said that he incurred huge losses this year for Ganesh Chaturthi as over 2800 Ganapati idols were not sold. “In previous years, five Durga idols were ordered from Haryana, Kurukshetra, and Bengal, but none this year. Dussehra is the only hope for our livelihood, so if we face loses in this season the entire artisans’ community is going to stage a Dharna (protest) at Telangana State Assembly,” he added.
The artisan who is the Telangana Artisans Welfare president, demanded that the government provide some aid and loan for artisans, apart from building a separate market for idols so they can make and sell idols at one place.