The Divine In The Making: Covid-19 Protocols Add Woes For Idol Makers In Assam

Posted in Assam, Featured, Northeast
  • NET Web Desk

The festive season is around the corner, but the customary idol makers are missing in action, as are their idols of the divine — many of which would have been receiving the final touches by this time of the year, if not for Covid-19.

Under the scorching sun at Itkhola area of Silchar stands a headless figurine of the goddess — her arms branching out — stood atop a semi-finished Shiva; and the menacing skeletons at her feet, war-ready. The colossal frame, evidently unfinished is waiting for artisans to give their ‘Midas touch’, ahead of the Kali Puja otherwise popularly known as Diwali. The idol makers are toiling hard, breathing life into these effigies; their unique sculpting skills having earned them the moniker of ‘makers of gods’.

While every year, these idol makers get started in the months of June-July, just around the Rath Yatra celebrations, but ever since the Covid-19 pandemic had changed it all.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus disease forcing authorities to restrict public gatherings, most idol makers in the area have returned to their hometowns during the lockdown.

Certain guideline on the idol size and pandal making has also been put into effect by the District administration. Even if they are permitted to set up pandals on a small scale, artisans will settle for smaller idols that can be readied at short notice.

The process of making idols is a complex one. Artisans have to toil day and night, and divide the work between shifts to build an idol of top-notch quality.

Speaking on the art of idol making, Rupak Sarkar who was a child prodigy himself in idol making starting at the age of five says, “we artisans have to first envision the end-result of our labour and begin backwards: what the goddess will look like, the size and the design. We begin with building a frame (the skeletal structure on which the entire masterpiece rests).”

Now a seventeen year old teenager Sarkar, studying in class 12 of Kendriya Vidyalaya Masimpur, further adds, “next, we cover it with straw and add mud to get the desired shape. The process is gradual because several layers of mud and clay are added before the structure is chiseled. Next, we go for the face (keeping in mind the minute details) and the fingers.”

Passionate about sculpting and idol making, Rupak shares that the covid pandemic has seriously affected his plans for the future. “I really had big plans this year and was enthusiast about making colossal idols though unfortunately the Coronavirus has changed everything. Though I am making a relatively small idol this year, given the size restrictions and a drastic cut down on the numbers of Kali puja pandals this year, I have to hopefully wait for the next year for things to normalize.” Sarkar shares.

But while Sarkar is busy giving his idols the final shapes, others are not so lucky. Bhuban Pal, a 71-year-old idol maker in Silchar says he is yet to begin work. “I am not sure people will want to spend money on idols this time. Those organising pandals are unlikely to receive donations. So I have been postponing the work every day. I have lost the enthusiasm to pursue such hard work,” he says.

Unlike the years that preceded, when Goddess Durga used to be bejeweled and decked in regalia come October and November, with worshippers from all across the valley, lining up to catch a glimpse; there is a strict no-no from the administration on any pomp and gaiety as per covid protocols. As for the efforts of these artisans — who probably still wait to enjoy the celebrity of their art — we can only but offer a hearful prayer for them!

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