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150 year old legacy lives on…

The Gaunkar family from Revora have been making Ganesh idols for last 150 years. While members of the family are occupied in various professions, the tradition continues to be kept alive. NT BUZZ talks to physics teacher Yeshwant Gaunkar to know more about this family tradition

Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ

There’s a charm in festivities and traditions that brings families together. And we came across the Gaunkar family that fits into this perfectly. They were known for making Ganesh idols and this tradition has been continued till date, from over 150 years ago. “What was started by the forefathers, can’t be ended so easily,” says Yeshwant Gaunkar, a physics teacher in a higher secondary school who has been making these idols since he was ten years old. He tells us that it’s just not about making idols for people but is a kind of dedication and devotion to Lord Ganesh.

While members of the family have diversified into other occupations and business, it is this time of the year that they put in extra time and come together to make idols for this auspicious festival.

“We are three brothers. My brother Pramod who holds a degree in Fine Arts is currently working in Mumbai while the youngest Prashant works in a company in Kundai in the HR department. On the auspicious occasion of Vadachi Punav, we start making the idols. We wait for the rains to end and then begin work on the orders that we have received.”

Being true to nature the family only makes idols made of clay procured from villages of Thivim, Madel and other surrounding villages in Bicholim. “My younger brother Pramod he has great skills when it comes to decorating and giving finer details to the idol. The artistic ones are done by my father, my cousins and me. We make around 100 idols every year. We get orders from regular customers, who give us the opportunity to make idols for them every year,” says Yeshwant.

The family makes idols under the banner Nanachi Ganeshala. While each idol is priced differently in the range of `1000 to `5000, the family is very clear that they don’t want to get commercial and thus during the production time, not just the men but even the ladies in the family and neighbours join in. “It is not about the money but the commitment,” he says.

Yeshwant tells us that since they have a rough idea of how many idol orders they get each year, they finish work in time for the festival. “As everyone wants something different they ask us to make a different type of jewellery and paint them. We have to go to Mumbai to get the jewellery for the idols. And for the paints we go to Sawantwadi or Kudal,” says Yeshwant.

One of the things that affects or disturbs Yeshwant during the Ganesh festival is that there are many idol makers and vendors, who make and sell idols, made of Plaster of Paris. And despite the awareness created, there’s hardly any action taken against them. “Many notices are issued by the government not to use POP idols. The government is quite ignorant about how sometimes some artists are bullying people by telling them that they use shadu mati (shadu clay). But the fact is that the base is of shadu clay and the rest of the idol is made of Plaster of Paris,” points out Yeshwant who tells us that that’s the reason the idols weigh less and the colours used on POP are bright and glossy, as compared to clay idols where the mud absorbs the colour.

He also speaks about how the PoP idols makers try to fool the general public and the authorities. He says: “Even when the inspectors or the authorities come to visit the stalls, the artisans show them the idols that have a base of shadu mati but not the idols made from POP. POP is a very dangerous and non-biodegradable substance. Despite knowing, educated people go ahead and buy them as they are lightweight and attractive.” Yeshwant thus appeals to people from Goa to purchase only clay idols and these are easily available at various places including the Goa Handicrafts outlets.

As a traditional idol maker, Yeshwant understands his responsibility towards the environment and though there have been several demands from people to make POP idols he refuses to alter tradition.

Yeshwant and his family take great pride in this. He believes that people shouldn’t leave their traditional occupations. “To encourage idol makers to make clay idols the government has implemented a policy wherein the artisans get `100 subsidy for each clay idol made. This amount is not sufficient for the artisans at all because there is no labour available; yet many families are committed to this cause,” he says. He appeals to the artistes and idol makers and the public to encourage youngsters to carry on the legacy of idol making as this form is slowly losing it essence.

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