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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 dwelling!

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 any worship.
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.

Arts & Crafts
Crafts of Maharashtra
Silver Jewellery of Hupri
Ganjifa and Other Crafts of Sawantwadi
Ganesha Idols of Pen
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