The outskirts of several towns in Chittoor district grow abuzz with acitivity in July every year. The areas get dotted with hundreds of shacks that serve as the workshops of idol-makers from Rajasthan who get busy shaping Vinayaka idols of various size, hues and colors.
However, the buzz appears to be missing this time. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The areas look deslote barring a few dozens of sheds. Even as the idol makers are working on mounds of mud, a sense of uncertainty is quite palpable from their eyes.
The frames of huge idols of the height of 6 ft to 10 ft are almost missing and three-foot high toy-like idols have taken their place.
About 25 families from Rajasthan and western Madhya Pradesh have arrived in Chittoor, Punganur, Palamaner, Madanapalle, Puttur and Nagari town two decades ago.
From February till August, the busy season lasts as the idol makers procure raw material such as plaster of paris, limestone powder, both eco-friendly and inorganic paints.
The orders starts coming from Ganesh panadal organisers, and by July, the business would be in full swing.
“We, a team of 15 people, make 300 to 400 big idols annually. This year, we have not received a single order since March. March is when we swing into action, but the lockdown imposed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic sank our hopes. No transportation is available to procure raw material, and none is ready to provide the stocks. With no financial support, we are left in the lurch,” says Ramesh (30) from Rajasthan, who has set up a shed on Puttur-Karveti Nagaram road.
The idol makers are struglling to make their ends meet. “With growing uncertainty about the business this year, we have our fongers crossed. We have no clue how to run our families,” says a young worker at the shed.
A rough estimate suggests that the idol makers do a business of ₹4 crore annually only from the idols of heights of 6 ft to 10 ft, excluding the small idols meant for households.
All expenditure and wages gone, the idol-makers earn profits, which is suffice to send money and festival gifts to their families, in addition to the annual maintenance.
Sajju Prakash (40) from Gwalior, who operates an idol-making unit near Madanapalle, says that he has been in the business for the last 25 years and has travelled many States.
“This pandemic has delivered a blow on our livelihood. We don’t know any other trade. Uncertainty looms large with the restrictions on religious gathering and organising community festivals,” he says.
However, the idol makers are banking on the orders for small idols from individual households. “Even if the pandemic continues, households would never miss the festival. Now, we are looking forward to those orders for our survival,” adds Mr. Sajju Prakash.