Calcutta: Amid rising costs and slow recovery, Kumartuli artists yearn for pre-Covid times

Despite a steady increase in eleventh hour orders and a marginal improvement over last year, idol sculptors in Kumartuli, in northern Calcutta, said they were suffering from falling idol prices, rising costs and low profits. Artisans known to make clay idols for Durga Puja and other festivals hope their business will stabilize and return to pre-pandemic levels by next year.

“Many organizers choose to buy ready-made idols instead of pre-ordering the sculptors to make one for them. Many organizing committees decided to organize the Puja a bit late, ”said Prasanta Pal, an artist from Kumartuli.

Many said the cost of raw materials had risen dramatically and spoke of a labor shortage as many of them returned to their villages during the pandemic. The relentless rains in South Bengal in recent weeks have added to their woes. As a result, they halve the orders received at the last moment.

Karthik Chandra Pal, who has been associated with the idol-making business for decades, said he struggled to take last-minute orders. He added: “The reason is that the lockdown has lasted a long time. There was uncertainty about how the atmosphere would be during Durga Puja or the rest of the Puja, if Durga Puja would be celebrated, so only a limited number of idols were made by purchasing a limited number of raw materials. However, we are now getting a lot of last minute orders, which we cannot fulfill even if we want to. About 50% of orders were refused.

Vishakhapatnam resident Shashi Jain, one of Pal’s oldest clients, was in the potters’ quarter north of Calcutta to buy idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh as he does every year before Diwali. Jain, who buys small idols from Pal and sells them in the local markets of Vishakhapatnam, said, “You cannot get such a variety of idols in India other than Kumartuli.

“I have been coming to this store for almost 30 years now, I take the idols in bulk in the hope that this time there will be no crown effect in the Diwali market in Vishakhapatnam.”

Speaking about the increasing cost of raw materials such as wood, bamboo, and colors, idol designer Maya Pal, while draping an eight-foot-long Durga idol with a sari, said, “The cost of raw materials soared. Since the Puja organizers are on a tight budget, we are unable to pass the excess charge on to customers. While the market is better than it is in 2020, it certainly isn’t a profitable year for any of us yet. “

When asked why last-minute orders had increased, artist Prashanta Pal said it might have something to do with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s 50,000 rupee grant to clubs that hold pujas. “More orders started arriving after August 15. However, this time the organizers kept the budget low, whereby artisans did not make much profit despite orders received at the last minute,” he said. -he adds.
A consequence of declining profits and rising costs has been the decrease in the size of the idols.

This year, the average height of Durga’s idols is 12 to 13 feet – taller than last year but much shorter than the 15-plus feet in 2019. In 2015, the pandal Deshapriya Park Puja had set a record in installing an 80ft Durga Idol. . At the time, he was touted as the “greatest idol in the world”.

Kumartuli craftsman Mintu Paul, whose family has been carving idols for decades, also said the company has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

While the demand for Durga’s idols on a single platform was higher last year, it seems to be slightly better this time around.
“The prices of everything have gone up, affecting the budget of the big Pujas. The market is not yet like it was before Covid, ”said Babu Paul, a well-known idol maker and secretary of Kolkata Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity.