Ganesha Sculpting: Travelling Traditions and Contemporary Adaptions

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Advait, a young sculptor smoothly moves brush on one of his idols in the days leading to the installation.

Cultural practices change as humankind evolves. As technological disruptions shape human society and rapid environmental changes leave clear footprints, the effects become apparent on cultures and traditions. It is art that captures these shifts and changes.

Symbolisms prevalent in Indian culture are followed in different contexts. Amongst these, elephant symbolism is quite significant. Falling in mid-monsoon, the festivities involving the installation of Lord Ganesha testifies this. The event is as much about home-welcoming a god, as it is about venting artistic creativity – though that the art often conveys itself implicitly.

The universal existence of the festival is differentiated by the unique artistic depictions characterized by regional influences, as sculptors use the opportunity to feature contemporary issues.

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Red soil idol sculpting is difficult, as sculptors have to follow a series of complex processes. It needs a critical eye to distinguish these idols from PoP idols that are still sold despite bans.

However, sculptors have to work against unforeseen challenges. For instance, for the past two years, the dark cloud of the recurrent pandemic continues to hover, as artists continue to operate in the constant fear of regulations and impositions. While the curbs hold right in the current circumstances, sculptors are having a tough time; at least those who eke out on seasonal artistry.

Sculptors using traditional approaches face competition from Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols. “PoP idols pose a threat not just to traditional sculpting but also to nature,” says Advait Bopche – a young artist from Yavatmal, a town in Central India known for its red soil sculpting. Advait is one of those artists who have been theming their idols to raise awareness on hygiene and sanitation, especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

Brought into existence during the political freedom struggle, the festival of Ganeshutsav today stands at the crossroad of devotion, worship, festivities, and ecology and conservation. And nothing is more pleasant than artists themselves trying to adopt eco-friendly ways. 

Having traversed more than 100 years of journey, Ganeshutsav has steadily acquired a household character. The emergence of Ganapati as a lineage deity has led to an increasing number of families wanting to have the elephant god installed at their homes. This in turn has increased opportunities and scope for sculptors to earn and showcase their creativity.

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Bastar Ganesha sits amidst the lofty peaks, telling tales from the past. – Source: patrika.com

Earning household character, however, hasn’t least affected community worship, as group celebrations take place with the same fervour. The concept of Raja has steadily spread from metropolitans to even small towns. Mammoth idols, majestic and splendid appearance characterize these Rajas. An onlooker is sure to get awe-struck, like the one who hears the tale of Bastar Ganesh.

Located in the lush green valleys of Dantewada district in Chattisgarh, Bastar Ganesh sits as a magnificent idol at a height of 13000 feet. Installed around one thousand years ago by Chindak Nagvanshis, the idol has been a witness to changing social relationships, as some anti-social elements tried to destroy it a few years ago. However, it was successfully restored to its original place, where it sits today. Deeply revered by indigenous tribal communities, Bastar Ganesh is a historical symbol of India’s rich art heritage.

Art lovers, devotees and authorities came together to re-built Bastar Ganesh from fallen pieces, and likewise, environmentalists and artists must collaborate to evolve eco-friendly Ganeshautsav celebrations. 

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Artificial ponds have arisen as a great option to give an eco-friendly end to the festival. Source: asianage.com

Environmentalists want water resources to be prevented from contamination. They are keen on protecting marine life and freshwater resources. And sculpting, too, is important, for it channelizes art economics.

 

Initiatives like artificial pond creation for idol immersion indicate increasing awareness towards protecting and sustaining natural water resources. Some even make small individual ponds at their homes to bid farewell to the deity. But maybe environmentalists and artists have to join hands to find a rational solution for large idols.

At a time when the earth is reeling under the impacts of climate change, worship, art and conservation cannot exist and operate individually. The amicable coexistence of these three elements – as is the need of the day – only holds the sustainable answer.

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