The Hindu has a fascinating article up about the artisans who create idols of the various Hindu deities. As you can imagine, it isn’t merely a job, but a holy undertaking.
“I can never fully express the joy and satisfaction I feel when I see the deity in all her/ his glory being prayed to by hundreds of devotees. The metamorphosis of a dull lump of clay to a vibrant throbbing god is an incredible process and it’s an honour to be a catalyst in this transformation,” says an emotional Vishwanath. A day in the life of an idol maker is marked by strict self-discipline, both physical and mental. “We bathe at dawn, get into fresh clothes and say a small prayer before embarking on idol making as often our work require us to stand/ stamp/ climb the idols. We also try and abstain from all worldly addictions in this period,” says Biswajeet Pal, one of Vishwanath’s chief helpers.”
It is important to note that traditionally made idols in the Hindu tradition are treated quite differently than mass-produced statuary. Once completed and “awakened” they are considered “alive” with the essence of the god or goddess in question. They must be fed with offerings and cared for, and once planted/rooted in a temple, never moved.
In a related story, the Indian district administration in Varanasi has prohibited the application of hazardous chemical paints during this years Navatri (when nine forms of female divinity are worshiped) to cut down on pollutants in the sacred Ganga/Ganges river.
“In a path breaking move to contain contamination of the holy Ganga due to immersion of idols laden with chemical paints and colours during Dussehra, the district administration has put a ban on the use hazardous chemical paints on idols during this Navratra. While the prohibitory order calls for ban of application of synthetic chemical paints on the idols of Goddess Durga and other deities during the festivity, the district administration is also looking for ways to promote the use of eco-friendly natural colours (obtained from leaves and flowers of some plants) on the occasion.”
In a land where millions of devotees immerse their idols into the Ganges, such changes could have a dramatic effect on pollution levels in the river. Both of these stories give us a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes activities that feed into a thriving religion of nearly a billion worldwide.