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ET Bureau: For Kolkata, Durga’s no more an American idol

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on September 25, 2009

by Anirvan Ghosh & Sreeradha Basu

Durga Puja lighting at a pandal in Guwahati on Wednesday night. Picture by Eastern Projections

Durga Puja lighting at a pandal in Guwahati on Wednesday night. Picture by Eastern Projections (The Telegraph, 2009)

BANGALORE/KOLKATA: Durga puja is being celebrated in the US and Europe this time with the same fervour and gaiety as any other year, but with a bit of austerity thrown in. The global recession led to many a job loss and pay cuts, and some members cut donations by as much as 50%. A puja in Cologne, Germany, for instance, has resorted to a reusable idol of the devi. Another in Massachusetts has done away with the frills — it has cut expenditure from a quarter million dollars to $100,000. And resident Bengalis in Kuala Lumpur joined the austerity drive by organising one puja instead of three.

All this has had a major impact on idol makers back home, especially in Kolkata’s Kumartulli, from where most of the idols are sourced by puja samitis overseas. “Our export business is down 50%,” says Pradyut Pal, among the biggest exporters of idols, who gets orders from puja associations in the US, Malaysia, Australia and Germany. “Even the number of online enquiries were much less this year because budgets are down.” Potters in Kumartulli do business worth Rs 8-9 crore every year by selling idols in India — mainly in the city of Kolkata — and abroad. Kumartulli makes around 11,000 small and large idols (including 3,000 big idols) every year, of which 220-230 are exported. “This year the number of idols shipped has fallen to 134,” says Aloke Sen, a prominent idol maker and artisan.

Dance Drama Goddess Durga (The Hindu, 2004)
Dance Drama Goddess Durga (The Hindu, 2004)

Mr Pal adds that 60% of the business comes from exports, because the potters charge a premium on the ‘exported-idols’ that are made of fibreglass for safe transportation. An overseas order rings in bigger profits, as exported idols cost around Rs 2 lakh apiece, far costlier than a clay idol of the same size that retails for around Rs 10,000.

What has added to the potters’ woes is the increase in cost of materials required to make fibreglass idols. Cost of fibreglass sheets, chemicals and paint have gone up.

Overseas organisers confirm the trend. “Pujas have tighter budgets this year. Job losses and an uncertain future have contributed to this end,” says Amit Ghosh, who is involved with a Puja organisation in Kuala Lumpur and employed with a top consultancy. The bigger pujas can cost around Rs 20 lakh, but this year, they are making do with Rs 10 lakh at the most.

In Massachussets, Houston and New Jersey, the impact of the downturn is palpable. “Donations from members have slipped this year,” says Prithviraj Chaudhuri, a research scholar at Harvard and a regular member of the core organising committee since the past couple of years at Puja celebrations in Boston. This year, the minimum contribution from members dipped by around 20% as some of them, with families, have lost their jobs, and aren’t sure when they would be employed again. As a result, expenditure for the Boston puja, which used to have a budget of around Rs 50 lakh, is now down to just about Rs 35 lakh, including the cost of the idol. Spends at the grander pujas have slipped to Rs 60 lakh from Rs 1 crore a year ago. “People are pooling in money and concentrating on fewer good pujas than thinning out the pie,” says Shweta Sen, part of an organising team in Houston.

Costs are also being cut in Cologne, Germany, a major puja location for Bengalis in that country. “We are going to use the same idol because it can last a few years,” says Shondip Chatterjee, who works with a prominent bank and one of the organisers there. He says that costs were cut 30% from Rs 20 lakh a year ago, and that has meant no new idol and using cheaper items for the marquee. Another puja in Bonn has done the same — it hasn’t ordered a new idol.

In the UK, where several pujas are held not just in London but also in cities like Manchester, the puja budget is down 30%. “People have lost their jobs there, and we could not raise more than what we did,” says Abhinav Bose, one of the organisers in south London.

Fortunately, domestic demand hasn’t gone down, and local organisers have continued to spend on the clay idols. But potters at Kumartulli will pray that the Mother Goddess will not let down the world another year.

(Source: 25 Sep 2009, 0418 hrs IST | The Economic Times – News By Industry)

One Response to “ET Bureau: For Kolkata, Durga’s no more an American idol”

  1. Thanks for putting together ET Bureau: For Kolkata, Durga’s no more an American idol IMC – India meets Classic presents … I am enjoying your posts. Would you consider a guest post? You can see my post style at http://timwicks.com.au and certainly I would be interested in having you post an article or two on my blog, what do you think?

    Like

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