Journey of Faith

From Earth to earth the journey of faith transpires. From the mounds of earth, sculpted by the finest artisans, these gods evolve and bring transformation to a zillion lives. The Ganpati festival in Maharashtra is not only a part of tradition, but a community gathering. The idols speak, emote, communicate and relate to the varying levels of faith. Traditions have etched some beautiful experiences for us amongst them, is one much known Ganeshotsav.

An artist doing the finer touches

The mandals who's idols are in the making, display the delivery dates of the idols called as Aagman (coming) which is done with a great pomp & show.

Primarily introduced by Lokmanya Tilak in Pune with the intention of bringing a social platform for people to meet and greet, Ganpati festival which was first only a home based festival. While the traditional way of celebration is bringing the Ganpati idol home with all pomp and show, the Mandals (Social organisations hosting the festival) also follow the tradition and bring the gods. Mumbai alone hosts 200,000 plus sarvajanik pandals. The grandeur, liveliness and traditional quotient remains at its peak during the celebrations. But in all this, let's understand what transpires the journey from earth to faith and back. The 10 day long journey of Ganpati festival is a year long activity of planning and execution. The idol makers are the real creators. The artisans are so very skilled that they can emote a face which can’t resist stares, expressive eyes that speak and stances that bewitch.

As a kid my mother always said when the gods came,"Look at his eyes, they seem to be so happy" and when it was time for the gods to leave, she said, “They looked sad." It was my mother's interpretation, but this emotional statement has always stayed with me. Year after year, I have been observing what my mother said holds so true. As I grew up, I have been witnessing every year, the coming and going of Ganesh idols from my granny's balcony in King Circle, Matunga (major big ganpati idols passed through this way). Over the years I have witnessed the pleasure and pain these idols emote, and yet the fact remains that they are merely idols.

The eyes that emote

This time, I decided to go behind the scenes and see these artisans at work. I wanted to witness what magic they create from the mounds of clay. The expressions they induce and the faith they build.
I was fortunate to visit the Khatu Workshop in Parel, one of the biggest in Mumbai. Mr. Vijay Khatu who passed away recently, was a renowned sculptor in Mumbai. He had given his major life to this tradition and art. His brother Rajan Khatu, also a sculptor, now runs the show. 

Late Mr. Vijay Khatu a renowned sculptor

The Khatu Workshop housed the commercial idols. Commercial I classify because, the Ganesh idols were beyond 10 feet. Huge gods dominated this workshop in every possible nook and corner. The artisans were busy with their chores, some polishing the idols, some applying coat of paint, some doing the finishing touches, some filling the moulds, while some merely guarding the front. The humid interiors called for some fresh air, but the workers kept working on and on inspite of the heat. 

A worker making accessories out of pop

The famous Khatu Workshop attracts hordes of observers everyday 

I chanced upon talking to Mr. Sawant who has been part of this idol making tradition since last 28 years and had spent more than a decade working with the Khatus. He mentioned, they started work on the idols on 1st of June every year in the makeshift workshop. He came from Malvan, likewise there were artisans who were here from Uttar Pradesh. Their speciality ranging from building scaffoldings and tables for the huge idols, making moulds, making accessories, giving finishing touches, painting eyes and facial expressions etc. They worked more than 12 hours a day endlessly without any holiday. The augment of Ganpati season pulls in extra work hours. The idols stood in varying stages of completion.. some been polished, some painted, some accessorised and other having the finishing touch ready for delivery.

An idol from Kurla Mandal ready for delivery sits placid amongst its batchmates

The commercial idols are majorly made of Plaster of Paris as clay does not give the sturdiness for bigger idols. The clay is obtained majorly from Pen, which is native to Ganpati making business.

    Ganpati on Swan ( A tricky piece of work) from Plaster of Paris

The Ganpati idols when ready move on for being accessorised. The following accessories mark the completion of a Ganesh idol.
·         Mushak ( Mouse)
·         Modak (Traditional Sweet)
·         Hibiscus flower

Ganpati artisans at finer work

The idols are adorned with some classic traditional jewellery which remains characteristic to Ganpati
·         Crown
·         Baali
·         Bajubandh
·         Sond Patta ( Trunk accessory)
·         Kanthi (Necklace)
·         Haar ( Garland)
·         Trishul ( Weapon)

Ganpati ornaments

Diamonds, pearls, gold and silver are used to deck the idols. These days the artificial accessories are easy on the pocket and offer fancier options. There are some families who maintain traditional gold, diamonds and silver ornaments for their Ganesha idols from generations. Some Ganesh mandals also accessorize their idols with Gold or Silver foot, hands and other accessories.

The Lalbaugcha Raja, is an iconic idol; and holds the city by storm. Lalbaug area becomes a pilgrimage destination during the 10 days of Ganeshotsav. Santosh Kamble the Sculptor of Lalbaugha Raja has been in to this family business for years now. He is the third generation in line to sculpt the Lalbaughcha Raja idol. The idols made by him are patented under the Kambli Arts brand.

I further visited the Chinchpokli area where every nook and corner provided me ample opportunities to see workshops mushroomed for the season. The idols here were majorly ready and out for display. Ironic but, the bright colours and wonderful countenance of the idols, makes a man want to choose between the gods. The streets are abuzz with activities. The work is in full swing. Some idols wait delivery while other are in their last stages of completion. Some pandals welcomed meanwhile other were selective about offering their idol photos only to local newspapers.

              Mind to mind conversations of the artist and the idol

                                                                                     Gauri idols 

Ganpati festival is not only celebrated in Mumbai, but Pune, Bangalore and other parts of the country. The idols are also sourced as far as US and UK. Pen being the largest exporter of Ganesh idols. People are opting the eco way towards festivities now. The eco initiative is definitely a pilot process, but can benefit our environment in a big way. Although every year there is a spurt of 10-15% new pandals, the curb cannot be brought down but, people can be educated to be responsible towards our environment and our coming generations.

         Shadu Clay which dissolves easily and 100 % eco-friendly

The festival is fast approaching and soon the streets will be abuzz with light and activities. People will move out to witness the different Ganesh pandals and decorations, the 10 days will soon vanish in merriment, but the unknown artists will toil the year round to keep your faith running  in these idols. Thousands of such artisans work day and night to meet the deadlines and make our favourite god come to us. Though their name never appears, they are flourishing in this industry bringing the faith from earth and mind to our sight.

Credits - DCP Expeditions and Pankaj Narshana for guiding me through streets of Mumbai in search of the gods.

Images & Text by - Jyoti Rane
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