|The Ganesha Idols of Pen
|When all of Maharashtra bids farewell to Ganapati bappa on the immersion night
of Anant Chaturthi, the sleepy hamlet of Pen, located in Raigad district on the
Bombay-Goa highway, some 75 kms from the metropolis of Bombay, get set for the
next year's Ganesha Festival.
|The writer visited Pen almost immediately after this year's 11-day long
festival in honour of the remover of obstacles. And there he found the artisans
of Pen slowly but devoutly shaping and producing idol after idol of the Lord.
His travelogue attempts to capture the dedication and preparedness of a cottage
industry which flourishes in a town with a population of barely 25,000
inhabitants and turns out 2.5 lakhs idols each year.
| On the two-hour long drive to Pen, N.R. Mhatre, Shrish Thakur our photographer,
Dilip Pimpalkhare a freelance cartoonist who joined us at the last moment and I
wondered how much of Ganesha we could really set our sights, on, now that the
cymbals, drums, chattings, prayers and processions had just abated.
|That day, we learnt that Ganesha hath his way.
|"Look up there!" exclaimed an ecstatic Dilip pointing to a one-storey dwelling
punctuated by a series of windows. In the half-light of dawn, through the
window directly above us on the street where we stood, was discernible a serene
Ganesha and working on it was a craftsman with a concentration and dedication
that only a true believer can muster.
|And suddenly, everything fell into place. Ganesha materialized as if out of
nowhere at every turn we took, in every lane and bylane, in karkhanas or
workshops we eventually lost count of. "If this is how Ganesha manifests
himself in the beginning, what a grand spectacle it must be close to the actual
Festival every year," said Shirish, and we concurred in awe.
|Pen, we discovered, is the centre of considerable traffic between the Deccan and
the sea coast. Trucks come down from the Sahyadri ranges along the Khopoli road
bringing tobacco, molasses, pepper and onions and taking away salt and rice,
the produce Pen offers the rest of the region including Bombay. |
|Not to forget the Ganeshas that this town transports to Bombay and
the rest of Maharashtra, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and even lands as far away as
the USA and the UK. All this despite the fact that none of the ingredients that
go into the manufacture of the idols is available locally and the town not
laying claim to any outstanding tradition in art.
|And yet the Pen-born, pot-bellied Lord with the twisted trunk is coveted because
of his aesthetic appeal. serenity, grace, a subtle blend of colours and a
finish that would do any workman proud.
|It was Bhikaji Krishna Deodhar who pioneered the Ganapati industry of Pen whose
origins can be traced to the turn of this century. When his traditional family
business of making the medieval Maharashtrian headgear called the pagdi became
slack, Bhikaji found a new dignity, occupation and raison d'etre in switching
to Ganapati idol making. something which his descendant Srikant, who belongs to
the fourth generation of Deodhars associated with this cottage industry,
carries on with grace and dedication to this day. Little had the great freedom
fighter Lokmanya Tilak guessed that even 100 years after he transformed the
festival- a family prayer gathering - into a meeting ground for educating and
rousing people to attain freedom, the tradition would continue!
|For 77-year old Waman Manik Wadke, the route to Ganesha idol making was only
slightly different though the intensity of feeling and belief in the Lord and
the good things he signifies are much the same. When the war effort adversely
affected his occupation as a silversmith, he wisely made the transition to this
industry. Interestingly he daughters-in-law of the Wadke family, all lend a
helping hand in colouring the clay images.
|There are about 300 such karkhanas in Pen providing a source of
livelihood to many. Some workers so doubt are engaged full time in the
profession. But this cottage industry fits in so well with the rural economics
of India where employment can often be seasonal. which is when Pen's potters,
coppersmiths, goldsmiths et al switch over to Ganapati manufacture at some
stage in their professional lives each year. And by the time it's August, when
the industry reaches its peak, more than a thousand people in at least 250
households are fond engaged full-time- and even overtime- in it.
Before the return journey to Bombay we dropped in at the local tea shop for some
village gossip, reminiscences and, of course, some hot tea. The village elders
were very keen to get across the popularity of Ganesha among foreigners too.
"So great is the potential and promise of Ganesha," said an octogenarian, "that
the Japanese one day decided to make and sell idols of the Lord to the
Indians." And then he chuckled, "unfortunately for the Japanese, all their
Ganesha' twisted trunks pointed rightwards instead of leftwards, which is the
norm. So they could not take our market by storm!" another customer, a
teenager, told us about how a customer from afar got so enamoured of large size
horizontally-crafted idol of a Ganapati on a boat that he bought it right
away.. Only to realize at the entrance to his house in his hometown that he
would have to bring down the walls were he to install the deity in his
|An old woman struck a note of pessimism when she wondered aloud as to how rapid
industrial growth might sound the death knell of this traditional art by
rendering Ganesha making unattractive to the younger generation.
|But the octogenarian would have no more of her gloomy predications. "Ganesha
permeates our lives. Business will continue as long as there are worshipers,
"he said with finality.
|We hoped he was right.
|When Work Is Worship
|Since time immemorial, an invocation to Ganapati is mandatory at the start of
|For the artisans of Pen, making idols of the auspicious Ganesha, hence, ceases
to be mere work and assumes the character of worship.
|Ganapatya Sampradaya or the cult of Ganesha worship flourished in coastal
Maharashtra and reached its peak during the reign of the Peshwas, fervent
worshipers of the Lord who originated from Srivardhan on the konkan coast.
|Accordingly to Hindu mythology, God has to attributes, size or shape, Ganesha
worshipers of youre hence found it easy to fashion something concrete from the
clay they gathered from the riverside.
|As civilization advanced, Ganesha making grew into a intricate art. Special
clays which are crack-resistant, fluorescent and zinc oxide powders and chrome
colours gave rise to idols of greater colours and attraction.
Today, thanks to the dedication of the craftsmen of Pen, we have Ganesha idols
of myriad shapes, colours and sized. individually crafted and mass produced,
truly a labour of love.