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Idol makers of Nepal stare at gloomy festival season amid COVID-19 pandemic


Nepal in October buzzes with the economic activities due to the festival like Durga Puja, the markets are decorated with idols, jewellery, ornaments but, 2020 has changed it entirely. COVID-19 has dampened the spirits of idol-makers in Nepal.

The business has come to a standstill due to various restrictions on markets and public gatherings. Albeit artists have opened their stalls and are continuously engaged in the making of idols, the business of these idol makers has been hampered due to the uncertainties around coronavirus.

Fulandevi Pandit, an idol maker, has prepared only two sets of Goddesses Durga idols this year for the approaching puja. Idol-makers who have been in this business for generations are facing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We use to sell three-four sets of Durga idols and about 100 Bishwakarma idols on an annual basis. This year we couldn’t sell any of the Bishwakarma idols. The business has gone for a toss, till now we could sell only two sets of Durga idols, no more sales have been made,” Fulandevi told.

Fulandevi looks after the decorative aspects of idol-making like ornamentation, jewellery that is attached over the body of the idols. Her two sons and husband do the complete structuring, paint-spraying, painting, and putting the dress on the idols.

The family of four reside in a tin-roofed temporary structure which they call “Karkhana” and make idols round the year for various festivals. Due to COVID-19, the celebrations have been restricted, resulting in a gloomy market, dip in sales, and ultimately increasing the loss for the family, who rely on the idol-making business for their livelihood.

Durga idols are accompanied by a set of other Gods and Goddesses like Saraswati, Laxmi, Kartik, Ganesha and demons like Mahisasur, Sumbha, and Nisumbha. Usually, it takes two weeks to complete and be ready for delivery to the clients.

Clay, hay-straws and husks are used to make the idols, bamboo sticks, and other raw materials are used to give support to lay on the structure which takes around three days to dry up and ready for spray-paint. The final touch-ups for the idols are performed followed by the clothing of the idols as well as ornamenting idols to add on attraction after which it is ready for delivery.

The local bodies and governments haven’t yet lifted the ban on mass gathering and people are yet to turn out for purchasing idols this year.

“We want to continue the tradition of worshipping Goddesses Durga with family members. No one outside the family will be permitted to come and take part in the puja. We are not going to use the music system or play the hymns on speaker,” said a client on the condition of anonymity.

Other families who previously were into the business of idol making this year have closed their doors for business. Bikau Pandit who also had a workshop near Fulandevi has returned to his hometown in southern plains.

“I have returned to my hometown, I won’t be back there by next year until the situation eases and restrictions are eased. They (local administration) didn’t give permission to make idols either so I came back home,” Bikau Pandit told.

Already crumbled due to the pandemic, the economy of the Himalayan nation, as per Asian Development Bank projection for 2020 would contract to 2.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, personalised celebrations around the capital Kathmandu has been banned this year due to COVID-19 as the government is yet to decide on the reopening of temples and Shaktipeeths as cases are still on the rise.

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