Kolkata: With the internet expanding exponentially, can Kolkata's traditional idol makers stay behind? Certainly not! Plans to launch a community website for Kumartuli, the colony of the city's traditional idol makers, so that they could reach potential overseas buyers of Durga idols failed to take off two years ago. However, more and more artisans are now embracing the web, going online and targeting NRI patrons of Durga pujas by enabling them to view and book idols online.
Kumartuli, which churns out about 4,000 Durga idols every year, started sending fibreglass idols of the mother goddess to Europe and the US about eight years ago, as that is the material preferred by overseas clients because fibreglass is light, durable and easy to transport. Traditionally, the idols are made of clay. Inspired by the success of 15 potters who have launched individual websites in the last two years, more idol markers are jumping on to the internet bandwagon to tap into markets abroad.
"We wanted to roll out a community website in 2010. Our plan was to design a site with a catalogue of idols made by all the artisans here. Once idols were booked online, the orders would have been allocated to the individual artisan. But the plan did not eventually work," Babu Pal, former secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samiti (Kumartuli Potters' Cultural Association), told IANS.
One of the main reasons for the plan's failure was the apprehension among a few artisans that favouritism might come into play while distributing orders, Pal said. "As the proposed community website did not come up, 15 idol makers have launched their websites till now. They have already secured direct offers from around the world," he said. According to Pal, the websites have not only helped artisans tap overseas markets but online booking of idols has knocked out the middlemen.
Middlemen, the potters claim, get the orders for fibreglass idols from NRI puja organisers and eat away a major share of the potters' hard-earned money. Prices for a five-foot-tall fibreglass idol of the mother goddess could range between Rs 100,000 ($1,900) to Rs 150,000 ($2,850). "The world is changing fast. We have to be prepared for the rapidly changing world. In the coming days, more potters will go online as the fibreglass market is expanding every year," Pal said.
This year Kumartuli has sent 44 fibreglass Durga idols abroad. Last year, 38 were exported. Artisans here supply idols of Hindu gods and goddesses to community pujas in not only Kolkata and its neighbourhood but also other parts of India. Celebrated idol maker Amarnath Ghosh, who had sent a Durga idol to Hamburg as early as 1979 and has been the largest exporter of fibreglass idols from Kumartuli for the last 6 to 8 years, was the first artist to create a website.
This year Ghosh and his son Kaushik sent 24 fibreglass Durga idols overseas to European countries, the US, China, Ukraine and Ethiopia. Kaushik seconded Pal on the need for a website. "It is important for an artisan to connect with the international market. The number of idol markers setting up personal websites is rising," he said.
Bhabesh Paul, Kumartuli Mritshilpi Samiti (Kumartuli Potters' Assocation) assistant secretary, who expressed a desire to put up his own website, said that artisans would need to have a web presence in the future to attract not only overseas but even domestic clients. "In the coming days, one may have to maintain a website for selling even traditional clay idols. Then even the domestic puja organisers would book idols online after choosing them from the catalogue," Paul said.
At the potters' hub in Kumartuli, there are at least 400 idol makers. Does that mean 400 new websites?