Indian Gods Lose Soul to PoP (Plaster of Paris)

Traditional artisans of Chhattisgarh are ignored by people and the state

About the Video: Gopaldas and Pelluram from Raipur, Chhattisgarh are part of a lineage that over three generations have dedicated their lives to the art of crafting mud, hay, bamboo and dye into finely detailed and ornate religious idols that communities worship during festivals. They labour over each statue for many weeks obsessing over, creating and recreating fine details until the image of gods and goddesses look resplendent and divine.  But the passing of time has taken a toll on these craftsmen. The introduction of Plaster of Paris and moulds has allowed cheaper duplicates to replicate and thrive and the traditional artisans are struggling to keep themselves and their art alive.  As Community Correspondent Sarwat Naqvi laments – “Where have the admirers of art gone?”

Our Community Correspondent Says: “I was struck by the beauty of these statues,” says Sarwat. “As I began observing them closely, the meticulous artwork, the finer details struck me as beautiful and almost divine. It was only when I interviewed the artists that I realized the great anguish that lay behind their great art.”

“The state should be proud of people like Gopaldas and Pelluram. When the state is trying to show its best face to the rest of the world it would do good to promote its artisans and craftsmen. They’re not only keeping tradition alive but also art and beauty.”

The Issue: For the traditional sculptors of Raipur, each statue is unique and painstakingly handcrafted. The raw materials have to be sourced and purchased from the nearby markets. The completion of a single statue takes several weeks of skilled labour. These sculptures are sold at a higher rate because the labour and the cost involved.

The newer kinds of statues are made of cheap Plaster of Paris. The set moulds allow the workers to complete the statue in just a few days. There is no requirement for skilled labour. These statues look like they’re coming off an assembly line but they are cheap and fast.

The demand for the statues arises only twice in a year – in the weeks before the festivals of Ganesh Chathurti and Durga Puja. Once the festival commences, the unsold statues are considered inauspicious and have to be destroyed. The cheap Plaster of Paris statues are quickly sold unlike the expensive, handcrafted ones. While the cheap replicas are blessed and worshiped, the traditional mud sculpture frequently meets its fate at the end of a sledgehammer.

Call to Action: Sarwat hopes that the government can help the traditional artisans  by promoting their artistry and artefacts. He wants the state to celebrate the talents of its unsung artists and take pride in their craft. He says,” Great art can exist only around the admirers of great art.”

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