Idols of Pen, Raigad District, Maharashtra A Photo essay

Ravi, Sumana graduated in Photojournalism from Light & Life Academy, Ooty. An ex- Management Consultant, she has worked on several projects to document the diverse facets of Indian culture covering events, people and places. For her, photography is both a passion and a mechanism for documenting stories of her profession.

August 2012, Craft Revival Trust
God is Omnipresent. Quite literally in Pen.

Everywhere you look in the quiet by-lanes of Pen, you see idols of the Hindu God of Luck and Prosperity, Ganesha, in various stages of production. Watching you from the parapets of houses while waiting for the the paint to dry; peeping through the windows, while the artisans provide finishing touches; and of course, establishing their presence in full glory atop the many small trucks which are transporting them, in various shapes, sizes and colors, to all parts of Maharashtra, and even to places as far as half way around the world to the US.

Located about 80 kms. Southeast of Mumbai, this small town in Raigad district is pretty much a cultural focal point owing to these "divine creations".

What culminates as 11 days of festivities, seen at its most pronounced form usually in Hindi movies, and felt at its most sublime form at Chowpatty in Mumbai every year, actually begins here as soon as the festivities finish. Lives of more than 30,000 Indians in Pen are centered, directly or indirectly, around the creation of the idols.

While the karkhana/ workshops exist aplenty, and one does get a feeling of industrialization due to the mass production through earthen casts, the process in its entirety is still largely a form of art. From the selection of pose, size and color of Ganesha, to accompanists, fragrances and time taken to make different idols, everything has a very human element in it, something that machines will find very hard to emulate.

Anything to do with Ganesha can, simply, not be taken lightly. For, he is the Lord of Good Luck. All Indian Gods have a charming physique and yet chequered mythology. And here is a God, pictured as pot-bellied, with a twisted trunk and mouse as the official vehicle, yet the first to be worshiped and never spoken grey of in any mythological literature.

Ganesh is the most unusual God in Indian mythology, and Pen is most unusual place for it to be the hub of Ganesha industry because no raw material is produced locally, and there is no long-standing tradition of art in Pen. The clay used to come from distant places in Gujarat and the colors were bought from the market. I wonder if this is irony, or a rather fitting meeting of odd friends.

Beginning 1970, the opening up of transport options from Pen to Mumbai and Pune gave the place a strategic locational advantage and turned this nascent art into a booming business.

The artisans of Pen seem to firmly believe in the "Work is worship" dictat and have given it a different dimension by adding, "worship is work." Looking at the artisans go about their day with the concentration only a devout believer can portray, is transcendental in its own way. However, things have changed with time. Yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The process remains the same; the output looks a little different. The God remains the same, worship is now more a festival. So while earlier, it was all about one design, but different sizes, it is now about adding fluorescence, modern crack resistant material like zinc oxide and sittings beyond the traditional "one-handed blessing" Ganesha. All in the lively spirit of festivities. God created man. Pen is one of the few places where God accepts to be created by Man.

Acknowledgement: Mr. Shrikant Deodhar (Kalpana Kala Mandir, Pen)

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