Festival artisans are in the doldrums this Durga Puja

With idols downsized and celebrations muted, their annual income is severely reduced

WITH the onset of India’s biggest festive season – Durga Puja, Dussehra and Diwali – there are strict guidelines in place for the celebrations. Most states and the central government are also nudging organisers to cut down on excesses. Festivities will be restrained,  the grandeur will be missing with smaller pandals and idols, and restrictions on the number of people gathering will mean the world’s largest street festival will certainly not live up to this record.

Typically, it is the time of the year – and in the months leading up the Durga Puja – when idol-makers, craftspeople, musicians, light decorators, event organisers and ‘dhakis’ or traditional drum players, among others, do brisk business. This year marks a different story, a rather gloomy one. The pandemic’s social distancing rules have left all these seasonal daily wagers, whose income solely depends on the annual festivals, with no work or money in their pockets. 

Hit hard by Corona and unemployment

Take, for instance, Govind Nath, a third-generation sculptor and owner of ‘Vishwakarma Shilpayan’. 47-year-old Nath told News18 that the coronavirus has badly affected idol makers like him because most puja pandals are low-key with downsized idols,  none more than 4-5 feet tall. Nath has barely sold 10  idols this year, as compared to 40 or 50 orders in the previous years.

31-year-old Swapan is facing similar hardships. He usually travels to Delhi from the Hooghly district in West Bengal during Durga Puja to work for artisans like Nath. Now, he is out of work and stuck in his village as his employer cannot hire him due to negligible demand. Swapan has exhausted his savings and makes ends meet with odd-jobs. 

Just in one village in Bengal’s East Medinipur, languish friends Nitai Mandol and Tapas Bhatta, who were in Kanpur erecting a wedding pandal when the lockdown was imposed and have had no work from puja committees; Kalipada Das’s drums, without whose addictive beat the festival is incomplete, are silent; and Prosenjit Purakait’s stock of lights, which he crafts into intricate sculptures, remain unilluminated.

For many migrant festival workers from Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides low demand for Durga Puja related work, it is the fear of coronavirus and the possibility of another arduous lockdown that is keeping them from traveling to cities. 

Help us help them

Donate to out-of-work workers like Swapan and others and add to your celebration of Durga Puja this year. You can help provide ration kits to festival workers and their families. Remember to share this fundraiser with your friends and family. Every contribution, however small, can make a huge difference.

May the goddess win against the demons of hunger and suffering. Let there be light in the lives of fellow citizens too and the spirit of goodness prevail.

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