Friday, April 12, 2013

Crafting Gods and Ganeshas in Ahmedabad

2013 seems to be good. Why I say that is because I have finally, after a long hibernation in Delhi, been stepping out of city limits. Though, my travels have been revisits to towns and cities, I was able to step into places and cultures that I had not been to earlier. And, importantly, take the camera out for a jog.

Ahmedabad was one such visit, where I chanced upon these intersting people who had migrated from Rajasthan over a 100 years back. The Gulbai Tekra in Ahmedabad is known for its unique craftsmen who excel in making exquisite idols of Indian gods, particularly Lord Ganesha. (Click here for more photos)

You visit that place any time during the day and dozens of hands, young and old, are at work deftly crafting beautiful idols. The slum is known for these expert but extremely poor craftsmen, who live in filthy conditions, despite their excellent skills in making well-proportioned idols of Indian gods.

Entire families are engaged in the work of designing, making, creating and colouring the idols. They supply the Ganesh and idols of other Hindu Gods to Mumbai and many other parts of India, particularly during major Indian festivals.

The people of Gulbai Tekra have retained their customs since they migrated over a hundred years back from Rajasthan after a severe drought. They continue to wear vibrant traditional clothes as well as nose rings which give them a distinct tribal look. The men remain unperturbed even as they are being clicked while many women are pose eagerly for photographs.

Recently, due to pollution of rivers and water-bodies, The government has been asking them to switch to clay idols, but they have largely ignored that directive as plaster of paris (POP) costs them almost half the price. The craftsmen also find that it is easier to colour the POP idols. Subsequently, buyers too prefer POP idols to clay ones due to the inexpensive proposition and also because these are brighter and more attractive.

Once the festive season is over many members of the families migrate to cities in search of jobs while some continue to work on the idols. A number of women here have very small businesses like selling eatables, tobacco products or running a tea shop. Families also own goats and poultry for sustenance.

On a positive note, a good thing I noticed amidst the squalor was a number of children still wearing school uniforms in the evening. Hope tradition and education can co-exist.

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