Amidst the noise and bustle of Madras city is a small winding street that took me into Koyanvan Pettai meaning ‘Potters’ Lane’. Every year, much before the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi begin in the rest of the city, the potters of Kosapet (as it is now known) gear up to make thousands of Ganesha idols.
The lanes are spotted with many idols, in various stages of improvement, each stage carefully constructed by different members of the family.
The streets look like a painting, stained with colours from previous seasons. I entered one of the houses. The lady of the house Vasantha invited me in. A transistor played old tamil songs in background as Vasantha and her three children deftly shaped the idols. The process is complex but yields beautiful results.
The variety in the shapes, sizes and style of the idols are fantastic. In these houses, Ganesha becomes a cricketer, an IT geek, a tailor or a student and the artisans have learnt to adapt tradition to modernity.
Idol making is a community tradition, passed on through generations, in every household of this locality. The kids of the community pride their knowledge of the art, the women carry it forward.
There was a time when making these idols was a family occupation. The men however have been forced to look at other avenues as the community receives no aid to keep their art alive. “It is frustrating,” said Vasantha. “We don’t have money or facilities, but we are trying to save our tradition,” she says.
As I left, Vasantha asked me to come back for the festival this month, and come back every year after that, as she hoped her art will live on.