Ganesha idols used during the festival
As Ganesha Chaturthi approaches every year, people bring in Ganesha idols in various forms to be worshipped at their homes or in the Ganesha mandals. Some could be sitting Ganeshas, standing Ganeshas, dancing Ganeshas, or even reclining Ganeshas.
In case of homes some families may have a tradition of bringing a particular type of the idol every year where as some like to bring in a new form each year. The size of these idols is not very large, as they have to fit into a specially decorated niche/area created inside a room in a home.
At community level worship the Ganesha idol sizes really have no restriction, as the wealth status of the mandal will determine the size. Many mandals compete to create the tallest or the most popular form of Ganesha.
The ancient tradition of idol making has seen several transformations over the years. While in the earlier times the Ganesha idols were made of clay, and decorated by turmeric and other natural colours, slowly the trend has changed to idols made of plaster of Paris and coloured by chemical paints which are not environment friendly.
Places where Ganesha idols are manufactured
The sheer variety of Ganesha idols that are displayed in the shops during the Ganesha Chaturthi festival is a feast for the eyes. Ganesha idol making is an industry by itself. Many places in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat have small and large workshops or kharkhanas that dedicatedly create only Ganesha idols year after year.
Places like Kosapet, Villipuram, Koyambedu, Kavangarai, Thirumullaivoyal in TamilNadu, Penn village close to Mumbai, lanes of Parel, Chinchpokli, and Lalbaug in Mumbai, areas like Chaderghat, Balanagar, Afzalgunj, Uppal, Alwal, Miyapur, Shivarampally in Hyderabad and some other places in Andhra Pradesh are famous for creating Ganesha idols.
Some of these workshops are around 50 years old! Idol making skills are handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes many migrants from other states also come into this industry and learn their way. Ganesha idol making is a labour intensive process. In most of the places idol making gets underway around three months before the Ganesha festival takes place. In some places they are made all year round to take care of demands in the local as well as international markets. Many places export these idols too.
The idol making industry in Pen (it lies on the NH-17 Mumbai to Goa highway) is huge, with most people from the village involved in the process. Around 500 units produce 600,000-700,000 Ganesha idols a year, with a turnover of nearly 6 crore rupees. More than a quarter of the statues are exported. The rest are sold in India, but for a premium as everyone wants an idol made in Pen!
Idol making in Pen has an interesting history. The villagers have always been artistic. Originally, they were adept at making items such as stuffed parrots and idols out of paper. When the Ganesha festival went from being a private to a community event in the 1890s, some of Pen's artisans shifted their skills to making clay idols for the festival. They were sold locally under a barter system for a few kilos of rice, and there was no money in it. But that is not the case these days, Ganesha idol making is a profitable business.
Pen also has a Ganesh Idol Museum and Information Centre for tourists to visit and learn more about this unique industry.
In Kosapet, colourfully painted Ganesha idols of varying sizes (three to 13 feet) are created every year. Idols big and small are found everywhere in this locality. One can find hundreds of idols, some covered (with plastic), and some still to be made neatly stacked on the ‘thinnais’ of the clay-tiled traditional houses.
More than 450 families are engaged in this trade of producing Ganesha idols for the festival. The people at Kosapet have eked out a living here for more than 50 years. This place was earlier called Koyavanpettai (meaning clay artisan) and with passage of time it became Kosapet. People from far flung areas come here to the Ganesha idols which cost anywhere between Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 25,000.
In Thirumullaivoyal idols of Lord Ganesha are made of Plaster of Paris (PoP) coated with white ash. The raw materials are procured from Andhra Pradesh and that the idols are painted with water colours hence are water soluble and less toxic. Here a five-foot tall idol is sold for Rs. 5,500, whereas the price increases depending on the size and workmanship. The price tag goes up to Rs. 20,000. The price of medium-sized idols of around 10 feet in height ranges from Rs 10 000 to Rs 35 000.
Most of the idol makers have started using Plaster of Paris (PoP) instead of clay here as it is cheaper than clay and is also lighter. The cost of clay has been rising over the years and is not as easily available as PoP. Also with the scarcity of skilled labourers and raw materials they have been forced to increase the price of idols by at least by 15 per cent recently.
With increasing usage of PoP and chemical paints the Ganesha idols created in the recent times are not environment friendly at all. This is a matter of grave concern as during Ganesha visarjan these idols pollute the water bodies into which they are immersed. This is not the message that Ganesha festival stands for. People in their greed to make money than being concerned about age old safe practices are exploiting this festival in the name of God.