Idols have name, fame but artisans see no future | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 22, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 22, 2007

Dying Arts of Shankhari Bazar-2

Idols have name, fame but artisans see no future

An artisan giving finishing touches to an idol at Shankhari Bazar.Photo: STAR

In a small room of a dilapidated old building at Shankhari Bazar, an artisan was moulding idols with utmost care. The young man was shaping a life size idol while two other big idols were reposed at the corner of the room.
The statues, denuded of any kind of ornament till then, were of Durga, her two daughters Laxmi and Swaraswati, two sons Ganesha and Kartik and of the evil Mahishashur, being prepared for the Durga Puja.
Once upon a time there were many such idol making shops on two sides of the narrow lane of Shankhari Bazar but now there are only a few. On the eve of festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Bishwakarma Puja and Manasa Puja these little workshops become busy with activity.
“We start working [on the idol] from the middle of the Bangla month of Srabon and the Puja is in Ashwin,” said Shanto Chandra Pal, the artisan, moulding with his hands and a sharp slender bamboo stick called 'cheri'.
Other than the life size statues on the overhead shelves of the room there was an array of small figurines of gods and goddesses.
Shanto and his fellow artisans were working under their master Balai Pal to make idols for the puja. The most flamboyant life size idol costs Tk 65,000.
“Other than Durga we make around 30 idols of Kali, 50 idols of Laxmi, 13 of Manasa, one or two of Shitala and 70 for Bishwakarma Puja round the year,” said Shanto. The Bishwakarma Puja, held in the Bangla month of Bhadra, is done amid much fanfare as he is the god of the artisans.
Till today Bangladeshi artisans use only one tool for moulding -- the 'cheri'. Most of the work is done by hands. The structure of the idol is first made with straws. Then a layer of clay is laid on it. Then another layer of bele mati (a special type of clay) is put of the figure.
The soil, used for making idols, is brought from Kashimpur village of Konabari in Savar. Truckloads of soil are brought twice in a year -- during the Bangla month of Magh and in Ashar-Srabon for Durga Puja. A truck full of clay costs around Tk 16,000 and bele mati Tk 13,000.
Balai Pal, the master artisan of the shop, said that he is in this profession for the last 26 years. “It is our family tradition to be an artisan. But at present only I am clinging to this profession among other family members,” he said.
Balai has seen many artisans leaving their job gradually.
“One big problem of this trade is that we do not get any loan or assistance from the government. We do not have any government recognition for our work. Besides, we do not have much work during off-season. We have to look forward to the puja seasons all the year,” said the artisan.
“In India artisans are exporting their works abroad and those have a very good market. The works of Bangladeshi artisans have a unique appeal worldwide as we do the moulding work mostly with hands. If we get some government assistance in exporting our works then it can bring both money and fame for the country. But it is very unfortunate that there is no government attention towards this art,” said Balai with regret.
Haripada Pal, an aged master artisan of Shankhari Bazar, said that in spite of the adverse situation the artisans have to do their work sincerely.
“Being an artisan is not that easy. A true artisan cannot change his profession just to feed his family. He needs to work with self satisfaction as he has a responsibility towards the society. It is his duty to preserve the art and culture of his country and protect the family tradition,” said Haripda.
Although his business does not bring much profit with gradual migration of the Hindu community, Haripada never thought of leaving his country.

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