India. Kolkata, West Bengal. In Kolkata, the annual grandeur celebrations welcoming Goddess Durga are just a few months away. Diwali and Kali Puja celebrations are also coming soon. But the COVID-19 crisis has created doubts about the status of these pujas. There is uncertainty as no one is sure if Durga Puja will still be celebrated like previous years or if there will be only symbolic celebrations.
COVID-19 has created an economic crisis for the creators of deity idols. For hundreds of thousands of them, this normally is the biggest money-making opportunity of the year. No puja means no work which means financial losses running into millions of rupees.
Kumartoli. Kumartoli in north Kolkata, literally meaning a colony where potter’s live, is the place where the majority of Durga idols are created. The atmosphere here was full of cheerfulness in February 2020 as orders started coming in for big idols. But, once the lockdowns were announced in March, everything changed as the orders started getting canceled.
The Transcontinental Times team found Kumartoli deserted and artisans sitting idle at their studios. Mr. Gayatri Das of Das Shilpa Bhandar and a member of Kumortoli Idol-makers’ Cultural Association told Transcontinental Times that, “Our factory would normally have orders for 60-70 big idols in a year. We would employ about 25-30 daily-wage artisans. With uncertainty about the puja, these artisans are staring at a dark future. We now have a stock room filled with incomplete clay and dry grass models of Durga and also raw materials like bamboo poles, clay, wood boards, dry grass, and decorative items for making the idols.”
Foreign customers, who made advanced payment in March, haven’t withdrawn their payments and have agreed to leave the payment for the next year’s order.
Women contribution. Women artisans who apply paint on the idols and decorate them with saris and ornaments also have no work. Mrs. Das told Transcontinental Times, “This will the first time in my entire life of almost 30 years of decorating deities that I don’t have work. Other years, during the puja season, I earn handsomely. My only hope this year is the customers who install idols for House Puja.”