A few years ago, when the monsoon would start retreating, the festival of Navratri would be in the offing. In the days leading to Durga installation artists would strenuously get occupied in churning out beautiful idols, and meeting stringent deadlines would be their only major concern. But with changing times, artists have now started encountering new challenges – unimagined and unexpected – that seem to have begun impacting their work adversely.
Managing physical and mental stress is not new for sculptors, especially when they are working for a special event like Durga Utsav. They intermingle with clay and colours to generate vibrant and dynamic features and they know they cannot undo their work.
In the recent past, however, sculptors have been progressively finding their diligent efforts being intercepted by a new element – the effects of the changing climate.
Umesh Badere, a young sculptor, would usually finish his assignments on time, but for the last three years, things have changed for him. Compelled by extended monsoon, the artist, now, has to spend more time with the flamethrower to dry the idols. Incidentally, Umesh loses time and remains behind the schedule.
It’s more than twenty-two years now that Umesh has been modeling clay into beautiful idols and household articles. And this journey hasn’t been smooth.
“When I lost my father to cancer, I was only fifty percent efficient at sculpting,” narrated the artist while describing how he overcame the problems that came his way.
While the sculptor has patiently dealt with the personal challenges, dealing with the climate change-induced challenges has become a true test for him. “You can find out ways for your problems, but changing seasonal patterns is an external issue, something beyond your control,” Umesh said.
“We can start Ganesha sculpting work in advance, but when it comes to Durga Devi, we can engage full-time only after Ganesha installation,” the sculptor explained. However, it’s not the time constraints that bother the artist, rather the changing natural phenomenon. “While operating in a time-constrained environment is common for us, now we have to also adjust to the whim of the climate.”
Right from making coal heaters to using gas guns, Umesh now deploys every possible means to accelerate idol drying. “An extended rainy season adds new complexities,” remarked the artist, while describing how persistent dampness now forces sculptors to resort to artificial drying measures. “Earlier, during monsoon, in between, we would have good spells of sunny days, but now, that is something more uncommon.”
However, Umesh is not alone in experiencing such challenges as caused by the ongoing climatic changes. Nilesh Deshmukh, another artist, narrated his own experience.
Deshmukh’s Saptshrungi art today stands unique for its elemental perfection and beauty, and artistic creativity. Instrumental in giving Yavatmal Durga Utsav wider publicity, it’s one-of-a-kind in the entire Maharashtra state. While Saptshrugi art has been an evolution in itself, as the artist described, extreme downpour is now turning out to be an adversary for its making.
In clay sculpting, the hands are made using wires. First, the wires are thrust through the rustic straw framework. They are then bent to form elbows, and adjusted as required. While the very process is followed for Saptashrungi too, nine hands emerging from proximity, on either side, makes it slightly tricky. “The challenge here is that after we apply multiple layers of clay, the hands do not dry easily,” the bespectacled sculptor noted.
“Long spells of rainfall and absence of sunlight keep the clay wet for long, which causes significant delays,” explained Deshmukh. The quadragenarian artist has installed powerful halogen lamps in his atelier to expose the idols to the lamps’ heat. “I have tried using blowers, but found them inefficient to dry the clay from inside, as only the external layer acquires toughness.” The artist further said that since sculpting involves managing multiple tasks concurrently, not each time he can engage his hands in drying.
In their attempts to counter the challenges, are the artists trying to adapt to the enforced changes? Perhaps they have started exploring options before finding concrete solutions.
Like Umesh and Deshmukh, there are many in the community of artists and craftsmen, who have started witnessing the impact of the changing climate. “This year rainwater gushed into our workshops and caused irreparable damages,” grieved a sculptor who suffered losses.
These experiences seem to be corroborating the projection that climate change is going to introduce new community-specific challenges. Only that art is one subtle area that doesn’t catch direct attention. Maybe these beginnings hint at potential disasters. As such, to prevent climate change from hitting vulnerable communities, impact assessment becomes imperative.
“The occurrence of heatwaves and floods is on the rise, and these extreme events have already started impacting different communities in different manners,” explained Prof. N. H. Ravindranath, a senior scientist at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, IISC, Bangalore. “Local and contextual adaptation strategies will help communities to better deal with and tackle the impositions of climate change,” the scientist further added.
For community-based adaptation strategies to work effectively, the role of public agencies becomes important. To evolve strong frameworks, they will have to coordinate with communities. Finally, it’s the collaborative effort that’s going to ensure a sustainably effective adaptation strategy.