'Hard Times': COVID Looms Over Ganesha Festivities as Indian Sculptors Fear Worst is Yet to Come

© Sputnik / Deexa KhanduriLord Ganesha idol
Lord Ganesha idol - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2021
Idol worship is an integral part of most Hindu religious celebrations and is especially visible during big festivals like "Durga Puja", "Diwali", and "Ganesh Chaturthi". However, with various COVID-induced curbs in place on public celebrations, the livelihood of idol sculptors has been dealt a severe blow.
Every August, Suraj Padhyal from the Indian state of Rajasthan travels about 170 km from Jaipur to Delhi accompanied by his two brothers and their wives. For the next three months, they devotedly create sculptures, mainly of Lord Ganesha, and Goddesses Lakshmi and Durga.
The Padhyal family is not alone. There are many other such families who await this time of the year with immense enthusiasm, hoping for a good income to survive on the rest of the year.
Sputnik visited Delhi's largest markets for idol sellers — Chittranjan Park, Govind Puri, and the outskirts of Delhi — Faridabad to speak to a few people involved in the business of making and selling idols.
© Sputnik / Deexa KhanduriSuraj Padhyal
Suraj Padhyal - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2021
Suraj Padhyal
This year, as the celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi begin, the Padhyal family has only been able to sell 27 of their 110 Ganesh idols.
Suraj Padhyal shared that this year they have failed to even recover their basic costs.
"Hardly, 20 percent of the idols got sold. We cannot keep them for next year, as the storage price is too high and they're delicate. These idols are mostly made of clay".
Asked about what will happen to all the idols they've already made, he said: "We will try to sell these idols during the upcoming festival of lights Diwali, slated for 5 November, when Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi are worshipped in houses. Otherwise, we will immerse them".
Pre-COVID these idols used to be placed in makeshift temples along roadsides or in colonies, or other public places, however, due to the pandemic, the government has restricted public celebrations to prevent large crowds from gathering. But all these measures have badly affected the livelihoods of small-scale sculptors or people who sell idols.
Indians celebrate about 36 different large festivals annually, most of them falling around the Ganesha Chaturthi festivities.
As per tradition, ardent devotees of Ganesha, the lord of auspiciousness, prosperity, and happiness, bring home his idol and worship it. They host the deity for three to eleven days. Later, these idols are immersed with reverence in rivers, lakes, or even wells to bid farewell to the divine guest for the year.

No Longer Business as Usual

Speaking about his family's business before COVID, Padhyal said: "We used to get [an] advance booking of at least 20 idols every year. Some of the idols used to be as tall as 30 feet".
But this year the situation is different.
"This is just the beginning of the festive season, we usually make a good profit during Durga Puja because that happens on a larger scale in Delhi than Ganesh Chaturthi", Padhyal explained.
What is usually a bustling time for those who sculpt idols has turned into a grim reminder of the economic impact of the pandemic, especially for artists like Prakash Rathore, whose income depends on the festive season.
Prakash Rathore, a known sculptor in Delhi, said: "Last year, the government banned people from visiting most of the pandals, and puja organisers keep the idol height as low 4-5 feet because they want to keep it a low-key affair. We're seeing a similar situation this year".
© Sputnik / Deexa KhanduriPrakash Rathore
Prakash Rathore - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2021
Prakash Rathore
Sarika Shakle, 37, a Delhi resident and contractual labourer, said: "On normal days, I sell vegetables, I sell idols this time of year. But, this year, there is no demand in the market".
© Sputnik / Deexa KhanduriSarika Shakle
Sarika Shakle - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2021
Sarika Shakle
"This is a hard time for us. But, we're serving God. He will take care of us", Shakle added.
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