Ganesh Chathurti may be just around the corner, but sculptors in Tiruchi are still awaiting orders for idols.

Idol-making, for instance, has been a family business for six households in Tiruverumbur. Over the years, they have introduced innovations in sculpting techniques, use of material and themes. Thanks to lockdown, there are no takers for their craft this year.

“We simply have no customers,” says D. Raja, one of the sculptors.

Normally, the orders come at least two weeks in advance. Depending on budget, they are for idols anywhere between two and 20 feet in height. Also, there will be at least 200 special orders, he recalls.

This year, there have been none so far.

But the sculptors have not been entirely idle. They have lined up Ganesha idols, most of them only between two and four feet in height, in the hope of making a sale. “We usually start work in December. So, we have ended up making more than what we can sell,” Mr. Raja says.

He and six others use maida, potato flour, paper mâché and sticks to sculpt the idols. “An idol is sturdy enough for the celebrations, but quickly dissolves when immersed in water,” he points out. “Fish can eat the remains and it will not harm the environment.”

In a good year, the sculptors earn anywhere between ₹1,000 and ₹5,000 per idol and even ₹10,000 for the big ones. This year, they have curtailed production due to fear of losses and customer uncertainty.

What is more, all idol-makers have borrowed money from acquaintances and banks. Now, they are unsure of how to return the money.

For some, the creations are their only legacy. In the case of Mr. Raja’s family, his uncle died on August 4. “His idols are all that he has left behind for his family,” he says.

The situation is no different in Kondayampettai, where some families make pots, lamps and clay Ganesha idols.

With only 15 days left for the festival, they are in a dilemma: to make or not to make the idols this year.

“We have bought clay, but we are not sure of the demand,” says R. Saroja, a lamp-maker.

The artisans want the State government to announce norms for celebration of the festival so that customers can purchase their idols.

“We do not think the authorities will allow celebrations on streets and in grounds. But if the norms are announced, customers will at least buy small idols for their homes,” she hopes.

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