At the gate of an old warehouse in Lower Parel located in Mumbai’s mill district, a cannon fires a burst of confetti to celebrate the exit of a ganesha statues. The Hindu deity in question is the smiling, elephant-headed Ganesha, who is thought to bring good luck and remove obstacles in people’s lives. This Ganesha is 20 feet tall and mounted on a blue cobra throne; he is pushed by a team of young men. Inside the gate, amid a fog of spray-paint, workers are putting the final touches to perhaps 50 more Ganeshas of only slightly more modest size. One of the idol rides a plaster tiger the size of a large horse other standing on the globe and many more in various styles.
Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival celebrating Ganesha, which usually starts in August or September lasts for 11 days, is one of the year’s biggest festival in Mumbai. Modest Ganesha statues are brought into family homes and worshipped; bigger, gaudier ones are mounted in public spaces by community groups and firms. At the end of the festival, hundreds and thousands of idols are ceremonially carried into water bodies like ponds, lakes and sea and left to disintegrate. An entire industry exists to provide people with suitable idols of Gods. It offers insight into the chaotic, informal and fiercely competitive nature of much Indian business.
The warehouse in Parel is usually used to host weddings and other events, but from June onwards until mid-September it becomes a workshop. Arms, legs, torsos and heads made up of Plaster of Paris (POP) are brought in from factories of the countryside. In Mumbai they are bolted together rather like giant Airfix kits.
The workers, just like the workspace, are temporary. Every monsoon, hundreds of workesr come from other parts of India, most of them are farmers. “There is no work in the rainy season, so we come here,” says the auspiciously named Avinash Ganesh Kar, a 22-year-old who makes 500 rupees ($7) a day by painting idols. While in Mumbai, workers sleep and eat as well as work in the warehouse.
The Ganesha industry is also almost entirely cash-based, with little credit involved. Many taxes go unpaid. And though permits are needed for almost everything—from electricity to the services of the fire brigade—they are easily obtained by Lord Ganesha’s munificence, meaning possibly a bribe or two. Bargaining is least possible for people in this sector as they believed that the amount they are paying for inviting Lord Ganesha to their home or society and that should not be bargained for the sake of God.
At the same time, the entrepreneurs involved in idol’s business are admirably competitive, innovative and sensitive to local tastes. These days, smaller Ganesha statues are often made more cheaply in China and shipped in. But the bigger ones are specialist products. A human-size Ganesha may start from 120,000 INR. A 20-feet idol costs far more. In those cases, customer’s expectations are much more. “My customers are finicky,” says Krunal Patil, owner of the yard. Most orders come on Facebook, and nobody will buy a Ganesha in a style they have already seen somewhere else on social media.
Just as with the rest of the economy, the government would like Ganesha statues idols production to be more formalized. This year business is tight, says Mr. Patil, because of GST (Goods and Services Tax) introduction in July 2017, an attempt to shift activity into the formal economy. While the immortal himself is not taxed, but the new levy has raised the cost of inputs required for production.
Other new regulations are having less effect. Officials in Mumbai have tried to make the business less harmful for the environment. But by end of 5th day of the festival, somewhere around 43,000 Ganesha statues are immersed in the sea marking to around 2 Lac statues at the end of the festival within 11 days. The POP used for creating the Ganesha statues typically takes years to break up, and a lot of the paint contains lead, which ends up on beaches and in lakes.
Fortunately, change seems to be on the way, more in response to customers’ worries than bureaucratic pressure. Some producers are making less harmful idols out of clay instead of POP. A business has also grown up providing artificial ponds for idols to float in until they disintegrate. Given time, firms unwilling to make planet-friendly Ganesha Idols could end up lying idle.
Market dealing with Idols and related items is highly profitable business as most of the idols are imported from China at a very cheaper rate and are sold at a very good price with no bargaining by the customers. Idols made up of POP are relatively cheaper than that made up of clay so they are more saleable. Moreover, when we are paying GST on most of the products and services, Deity Idol manufacturers are not liable to pay GST on idols. And people are ready to pay any price in the namesake of God Ganesha.