Muslims excel in making mandirs

Muslims excel in making mandirs
At least 20 families migrated from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh to Hyderabad some two decades ago and they have made their mark with their art of making pooja mandirs (mantapas in Kannada) par excellence in the city. One can find their workshops-cum-residences near Bowenpally Cross Roads, close to the Secunderabad Cantonment.  Buyers can pick pooja mandir of  their choice and the prices range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 50,000, depending on the size and design.

Mohammad Tarakshan, who still has his textile business in Saharanpur, is a second generation artisan. He was trained in making furniture in Delhi. He learnt mandir making only after coming to Hyderabad. “All of us actually had hands-on training in Delhi. But after setting up shops here, we realised that the demand for pooja mandirs is more than for antique furniture,” Mohammad said.

Mohammad, who was busy carving a Tanjavur mandir for a defence employee, prefers to work on models that he himself visualises and make them. “I have a clear picture of the type of  mandir I want to make. You will be surprised to know that I have never been to a temple and my religion will not allow making of replicas of temples,” he said. He considers his work as any other profession. “As employees work in offices without attaching importance to religion to earn their livelihood, I also do my job in the same way. If I don’t work, my  family  will starve,” Mohammad said.

Zia Wood Works, another famous workshop in Bowenpally which has its presence on social media, offers its customers pooja mandirs of their choice. “Many come with pictures of their choice like Tirumala, Chidambaram, Konark, Shirdi and Kerala-style temples. We then scale it down to their requirement and then make a pooja mandir,” artisan Najeeb  said. Limra Wood Works is another well-known shop and its owner Gafoor  prefers to make pooja mandirs of customer's choice as it saves time and cuts down on inventory.

The artisans live in joint families and run their businesses. “We don’t employ any outsiders. We are all close relatives. This way we save some money and send it to Saharanpur,” Gafoor said.

Family members share work such as carving, assembling, polishing and transporting pooja mandirs. “Our products are sold in big showrooms in Hitech city, Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills. They put their labels on our pooja mandirs and sell them at a premium,” Noor Mohammad said while cutting a teakwood log to suit the requirement.

Mohammad Tarkshan, however, feels that the art is slowly dying with the new generation preferring to study and take up other jobs. “Now margins are not much as the cost of inputs such as teakwood, polish and other materials has skyrocketed. What we earn will be just sufficient to pay the rent and feed family,” he said.

Also, many of the newly constructed ultra modern villas and flats have  machine-cut pooja mandirs. “People having large space to keep huge mandirs come to us. Those who want to keep their mandirs in a corner of a kitchen or under the stairway may not visit us at all,” Mohammad observed.
He refuses to work onsites as he is doing a creative job. “Now, I  prefer to work in the confines of my workshop. One day I may be forced to carve a mandir as per the plan of an interior designer and it may not bear my name or style,” he said.

The Saharanpur artisans are now looking at new avenues in Amaravati, the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. They say that many of them have visited Vijayawada and are setting up workshops there to take advantage of the real estate boom in the tri-city area of Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali. They say that there is tremendous scope for wood carving in the Amaravati region. “There is demand for carving of partitions. We will have to test the waters before we introduce our pooja mandirs,” owners of Limra group say.

Artisans are changing with the times and it is evident as one can see metal-plated mandirs, mostly replicas of Shirdi Sai’s Bhavya mandir, which are in demand. “It is not our style but there is demand for them nowadays and many are making them as customers want them. Even fixing doors is not preferred by us. But many south Indians want doors for mandirs as scriptures suggest it. We execute what they want,” Mohammad said.

Artisans are adapting to changing trends, but they are not sure how long their products will be in demand. They live on hope that mandirs will continue to be in demand. “The demand is seasonal. Dasara will see huge spike in business and Ramzan will have the lowest turnover. It is also a tough time to get artisans to do carving work. But as long as people have belief in god and they like to pray there will be demand for our work,” Kaka, an old artisan, said as he got ready for prayers at a nearby  mosque behind Begumpet airport.

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