Clay artisans are working hard to meet demand across Bangladesh as the Hindu community looks to Durga Puja, its biggest religious festival starting on Oct 11.
During a visit to Jashore's Sharsha Upazila, a hub of idol carvers, this correspondent found the artisans busy shaping the Durga Puja idols with wood, bamboo and clay.
With that difficult task out of the way, the idols are being beautified in colours and designs. All of this takes decades to master, a form of craftsmanship kept alive by the knowledge that passes down through the generations, but informs the similar yet unique characteristics of each idol sculptor.
Basudev Bhaskar, a craftsman from Satkhira, told bdnews24 that he was hired to prepare idols for 15 pandals across Sharsha Upazila and is currently working on the idol for the Chhotoachra pandal in Sharsha’s Benapole. Basudev, who leads a team of six, charges Tk 30,000 for every idol they craft.
But a lack of skilled assistants amid the COVID-19 pandemic means the idols will be delivered with imperfections. Still, he expects to earn about Tk 200,000 for his team through the Durga Puja work.
Sukanta Mandal, 60, is designing an idol for a temple of Pathbari region in Benapole. He said idol crafting is his only means of livelihood and he does it throughout the year.
Sukanta has been an idol artisan for 35 years, as were his father and grandfather before him.
"Our workload increases on the eve of the Durga Puja," Sukanta said.
During this time the lead craftsmen can make a profit of over Tk 100,000 after paying the wages for their assistants, he said.
Even then, many artisans say the interest in idol carving has declined.
"There is little work throughout the year, aside from this single season. How will we sustain ourselves the rest of the time? This uncertainty pushes people away from the work." artisan Biswajit Pal said as he worked on a pandal in Samta village.
Arun Chandra Pal, a leading member of the local puja committee, said there are 26 families living in Samta village and although Durga Puja festivities are usually celebrated with great zest, this year’s event is on a limited scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baidyanath Das, the president of the central Durga Puja council in Sharsha Upazila, said crafting is nearly complete for 29 pandals across the region.
The council has formed its own security force from members of local political and social organisations to support law enforcers in providing security ahead of the festival.
Sharsha Police Station chief Badrul Alam Khan said police will patrol the town and provide security at the pandals. The Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guard Bangladesh will also be on patrol duty.