“With the input costs having doubled this year, we were forced to hike the prices of idols. But, with customers not willing to shell out the extra buck, we have scaled them down considerably,” said Babu Pal, secretary, Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskriti Samiti.
A sign of rising input costs — The price of a bamboo has increased from Rs 45 to Rs 100. Ropes are now dearer by Rs 15 from the earlier price of Rs 36, while the price of hay has more than doubled from Rs 80 to Rs 190.
“We have been forced to hike prices this year with the spiraling input cost. The bigger Pujas like the ones organised by Subrata Mukherjee till last year shelled out Rs 80,000-90,000 for the idols. For the same this year, the costs have jumped up to around Rs 1 lakh. For the smaller idols, the costs have escalated by almost Rs 3,000,” said Babu Pal.
On the late rains, Babu Pal said: “We are working overtime to prepare the idols in time. Due to the rains, however, most of the idols have been damaged. Even as we are trying to dry them with candles and oil lamps, several puja committees have not got their deities on time.”
This year, idol makers say, Puja committees insisted on buying smaller idols to save costs. “Puja committees have gone in for smaller models this year to cut costs,” said Babu Pal.
The hike in idol costs has not quite translated into profits, say idol makers.
“All the idols may have been sold, but most of us have taken loans from banks and we have no idea how to repay them. As ours is a seasonal business, we depend on the Puja market but we have not been able to hike the prices enough to make profits. Most of us have barely increased the prices by five per cent, even as the costs we endured while making them were greater,” said Dilip Pal, an idol maker.
Dilip added: “There are nearly 300 artisans here and most borrow huge amounts from banks to start work. Most of them are on the verge of becoming loan defaulters this year. What is worse is that the next generation is losing interest in this vocation after seeing our state of affairs.”
Dilip added: “This year Vishwakarma idols were not sold as much as last year. Many organisers felt that since Durga Puja is a week away, they would skip the Vishwakarma Puja. Idol makers in Kumartili and even Sealdah are left with unsold idols. The state government should have done something for us, but help has not been coming from them.”
It is not the idol makers alone who are counting losses this year, almost everyone involved in the business have been complaining.
Biswanath Dey, owner of Sandip Stores that supplies ornaments for idols, said: “Earlier, we brought the threads for zari work at Rs 120 per kg, now it is sold for Rs 170 per kg. This year our losses will run into nearly Rs 50,000 at least.”
Puja committess, meanwhile, express their helplessness. Soumak Saha, a member of the puja organising committee at Nalin Sarkar Street, said: “We have had to reduce our budget by nearly 30 per cent this year. We have scaled down everything from decorations to lights as we have little money to spare.”
Mintu Pal, president of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskriti Samiti, voiced similar views. “We understand their (puja committees’) helplessness. They tell us that they were unable to collect much Puja subscription due to the market slowdown. People are not willing to donate as much as they did last year. So they haggle with us to reduce prices, which we invariably do as we have to sell our idols even if it means incurring losses,” he said.
Kumartuli potters join the e-selling bandwagon
Working out of their tiny tents in the by-lanes of north Kolkata, potters of Kumartuli are now banking upon the Internet to reach out to the overseas clients.
E-selling of idols of Goddess Durga is catching up, with a few doing brisk business. Earlier, organisers of Durga Puja abroad had to come down personally or contact sculptors through relatives or intermediaries in the city. “But now with our website, we can easily sell our products to the buyers settled abroad. They just log onto the website, go through the catalogue and email us their requirement. We then deliver the idol at a place of their choice,” said Pradyut Pal, who is involved in sculpting for generations.