Deaf, mute idolmaker braves the odds for Lord Ganesha

In a sleepy town in the picturesque Malnad region of Karnataka, a septuagenarian artist has been fighting physical and financial setbacks to show reverence to his favourite deity, Lord Ganesha.

77-year-old Panduranga Rao, who is suffering from hearing and speech disability since birth, has been preparing the idols of Lord Ganesha with clay for the past 57 years, a mark of his devotion and worship. 

He inherited the art of idolmaking from his father Anand Rao, who began preparing clay idols in the Malnad region about 75 years ago. Rao continued his father’s legacy even after his demise. He believes this is the best way of serving the "lord" and remembering his father. 

Though idolmaking has not improved his financial situation, Rao is keen on the next generation taking over from him to ensure that the family’s legacy would not end. 

Rao's son Vinay is also learning the art of making eco-friendly Ganesha idols from his father. In this way, Rao wants to keep the tradition alive. Besides his family, Rao is also teaching the skills to others.  


Panduranga Rao gives final touches to a clay idol of lord Ganesha. (Pic special arrangement)

People’s obsession with idols prepared from moulds has reduced demand for Rao's idols. This has turned out to be a major impediment to keeping the tradition alive. 

“We are contemplating over preparing the idols from moulds due to the stiff competition from other idolmakers. My husband has been making idols without any profit motive. But the circumstances have changed over the last few years. The situation is demanding us to adopt new methods of preparing idols. But he is reluctant. He believes that preparing the idols from the mould will reduce the importance of an artist,” Sudha, Rao's wife, told DH. The family stays in Thirthahalli.

“Earlier, we used to prepare more than 200 idols during the Ganesha festival. Now, it has come down to 100 to 110. The entry of Plaster of Paris (POP) idols of Lord Ganesha to the market just a few days before the festival is causing losses. Some villagers, however, are still keen to purchase the idols from us. My husband will be busy in preparing the idols for three months from June every year. Though we spend nearly Rs 30,000 to prepare about 100 idols of various sizes, we get less than the money spent. We bring the soil from Bharatipura on the outskirts of Theerthahalli by spending more than Rs 10,000,” she added.

Sudha said there are instances where people, who ordered for the idols, have cancelled it at the last minute saying they want POP idols. “Several idols remain unsold causing a huge loss. But for my husband, this is not business, but an art.” 

Rao works in a vegetable shop for the rest of the year. “I work as a maid in various houses to run the family. I am glad that my daughter Sowmya has completed MBA and is working in a private company in Bengaluru braving all the hurdles. I hope my son will carry on this art," Sudha added.


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Deaf, mute idolmaker braves the odds for Lord Ganesha

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