Assam idol-makers stare at deep losses this puja season

Assam idol-makers stare at deep losses this puja season
Vishwakarma idols being given finishing touches at a workshop in Panbazar on Tuesday.

GUWAHATI | SEPT 15, 2020:

Unlike previous years, there seems to be no activity at Lakhi Silpalaya on College Hostel Road at Panbazar, especially with hardly two days left for Vishwakarma Puja.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only hit the livelihoods of idol makers of Assam hard but has snuffed out the excitement that every Puja season brings.

"We have not even had 5 percent of the orders that we usually have for Vishwakarma Puja. A few idols are going through finishing touches with many hoping that some customers would pick them at the eleventh hour," Ashok Pal, the proprietor of Lakhi Silpalay told TNT-The Northeast Today on Tuesday.

Pal, in his early fifties, is a third-generation idol maker, who is carrying forward a 143-year-old legacy.

Around 15 to 20 idol makers in the city are unable to apply their trade this season because of COVID-19 and the precautionary measures and norms laid by the administration.

"We had about ten orders for Durga Puja, but since the administration has asked puja organizers to refrain from the usual big-budget celebration to avoid crowding in the pandals, they cancelled the orders. So, our business has turned from bad to worse this season," Pal said.

Alongside Lakhi Silpalay is another workshop, Loknath Silpalay, which belongs to his uncle, Niranjan Pal. There, this correspondent could hardly see any big idols but a few medium-sized ones.

"Some artisans in Kolkata and Goalpara were contacted in January but we had to cancel the arrangement post COVID. There's been no income unlike in the past. As artisans who have been skilled to make idols, we cannot just abruptly opt for an alternative way of earning a living," the 74-year-old Niranjan rued.

The organisers too are in a state of dilemma even as some are trying to come to terms with a Puja season minus the crowds and pandal hoppers.

"Our work starts a month before Durga Puja. But not this year, as we are in a spot and have placed no order. By the look of things, we have to settle for a low-key ritual," said a member of the organising committee here.

The puja committees had a preliminary meeting with the Kamrup Metro District Administration recently. However, they issued no guidelines on the celebration.

Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, meanwhile, has warned people against pandal hopping this Durga Puja given the spike in COVID positive cases in the state.

"If people gather in large numbers in the pandals like before, the situation could turn from bad to worse. Then our task would become even more challenging," he cautioned.

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