Every year, Vinayaka Chavithi is celebrated on a larger-than-life scale with religious fervour by millions across the country, with the last two years being an exception. The festival is synonymous with pomp celebrations, well-lit pandals along the roads, and, of course, artistically crafted idols of Lord Ganesha. Many of us can relate to the nostalgic feeling of walking around the busy bazaars and markets to find that perfect Ganesha idol which catches our eye. But what is more interesting is what happens behind the scenes that involve handcrafting of the mud into the colourful and life-like idols we offer our prayers to. Walking us through the fabric of this dynamic process, Phani, a passionate idol maker in Vizag, shares his journey and interesting tit-bits about idol making during the Vinayaka Chavithi/Ganesh Chaturthi season.
Tucked away in the lanes of Kancharapalem, New Kolkata Idols is a well-established idol-making unit in Vizag run by Phani (31) and his elder brother Ram Murthy (34). The brothers were first introduced to the world of idol-making by their uncle Raghu at a very early stage of life. “Raghu uncle was one of the first to introduce the Kharagpur-style Ganesha idols in Vizag. Our passion for this field sprouted out of the fun we had during our visits to his karakhana (workshop) as children”, reminisced Phani. He also attributes the growth of fondness for Kharagpur idols among the locals of Vizag to the railway connectivity the city shared with that region. Phani fondly recalled the days his father, a railway employee, brought home Ganesha idols from Kharagpur during the festive season.
Inheriting the love and passion for idol-making from his uncles, Phani and Ram Murthy established New Kolkata Idols 15 years ago. Today, they are one of the most sought-after makers in Visakhapatnam and its surrounding places such as Vizianagaram, Anakapalli, Kakinada, Vijayawada, and others. Speaking about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, Phani said that the cost of idol-making has increased in the last two years. “We use mud from the banks of Ganga and other materials procured from Kolkata to make idols. Ever since the pandemic struck the country, the cost of transporting increased multifold which in turn affected the budget for producing idols.” The karakhana run by Phani and his brother produces only large-size idols that are generally put up at pandals and not small sizes used at home.
After a decline in the number of idols produced in the last two years, the brothers are back at it with full force as the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. Further, Phani took us deeper through the whole process while on a tour around his idol inventory. He said, “Our preparations start at least three months prior to the festival by procuring raw materials and looping in the artisans from Kolkata.” Stating that they strictly employ eco-friendly materials, he says that mud idols have a more authentic feel to them compared to the ones made with Plaster of Paris. Currently, New Kolkata Idols comprises 14 well-experienced craftsmen, originating from West Bengal, who shift their base to Vizag during the Vinayaka Chavithi/Ganesh Chaturthi season.
Later, Phani expressed that his brother is the primary driving force behind their karakhana. He says that Ram Murthy is a skilled artisan himself and is a very well-known name in the city for his passion for the craft. “In fact, the character of Ram Murthy, an idol maker in the movie Care of Kancherapalem, was inspired by my brother”, added Phani. He went on to say that their family supports their passion in every way possible.
On a closing note, Phani added that they draw inspiration for idol designs from their daily life. “Whenever we visit a temple, we observe the architecture and the designs on the walls. Later, we fuse the little fragments from several designs we see there for our idols”, he explained.
With the COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, Vinayaka Chavithi/Ganesh Chaturthi is sure to be a grand affair in Vizag, Stay tuned to Yo! Vizag website and Instagram for more such interesting stories.