In Pictures: Meet The Makers Who Have Been Crafting The Most Popular And Oldest Ganesha In Coastal Karnataka
Artist Mohan Rao reads a nameplate at the entrance of a large hall; upon entering, you have to mind every step, for there are Ganeshas seated all around. Hundreds of them in all sizes varying from a few inches to a few feet.
Third generation of the Raos is busy giving final touches to the hundreds of Ganesha idols that are sitting pretty awaiting to be taken to their respective homes and pandals.
And as you carefully tread and head to the end of the room, in one corner to the left is seated the large and most ’favourite’ and adorable ‘Ganapa’ - the one with whom began the tradition of his community worship on the southern coast of Karnataka way back in 1948 - the ‘Sanghaniketan Ganapati’.
And that has been his spot for decades now. Even though the earlier smaller traditional tiled house made way for this large basement to house him’ and the houses on top, that particular corner on that piece of land has been his spot since 1950.
Ramachandra Rao takes us down memory lane of how the most loved Ganapa of Mangaluru began to take shape and first at the hands of his father and then his own.
‘It is our 93rd year of making Ganeshas,‘ says the retired bank officer, who alongwith his brothers Prabhakar Rao, Sudhakar Rao inherited the skill and the art of making Ganeshas from their father Mohan Rao.
The third generation inheritor of the art Mahesh Rao introduced us to the seniors who shared the journey so far.
When the group of people who were conducting the Ganeshotsava at Sanghaniketan approached his father to make one for them, he had already been doing the same in Mumbai.
So in 1949, for the first time began the tryst of the Rao’s with the ‘Sanghaniketan Ganapati’, and since then, their life has revolved around his making at this time of the year ‘and his grace in the rest of it’ says Rao.
He was a smaller idol back then and began to grow but could only grow as big as their traditional house could accommodate. So the maximum he would be is a little over five feet.
After their old home made way for a larger structure, his only instruction to the engineer too was to ensure Ganapa sat in the same spot as he always did and the hall be designed to accommodate him, and the rest of them and his doorway facilitate his movement.
‘But the tradition is to add one handful of clay more each year which is what had him grow to being this big. But we then have to take care that he can also be carried since it is all managed by volunteers hence taken care,’ he explains.
My father made them until 1987, and I would assist him till he did. He passed away at the age of 98 in 1988, and since then, I have taken over the mantle, he says.
Ask him what it takes to bring that most popular Ganesha to form and he says, ‘for him alone we can never estimate the clay it takes’ because we work on him in stages and he just happens.
As is tradition here, the idols are made completely out of clay; there is no use of POP, unlike in other parts of the country. Which also means there is no mould that can be used to create the form. Yet, for decades he has looked exactly the way he always does.
’He is one idol we never measure, be it weight or height. Special care is taken as far as even the sanctity of this one as he is one that lakhs of people worship,’ he explains.
His own journey with the idol has been of sixty long years says the 73 year old retired bank employee who until retirement took a month off each year to come down and make the Ganeshas ‘day in and day out’.
A total of 236 Ganeshas have taken form this year of which almost half a dozen are life size ones and the rest varying down to the smallest one which can be held atop ones palm.
But in a day or two they would have all left and the thought of them leaving itself makes Rao moist eyed.
‘It hurts and one feels very sad when you have to let him go, even the thought of the visarjan brings tears,’ says Rao, his voice choking just recollecting it.
But the sight of him all decked up and seated there at the Sanghaniketan as the mighty one makes it all worth it. His ‘sondilu has grown bigger’ he quips ’as he keeps getting alot of ornaments to adorn in’. Else, his form, his shape and his face ‘is the same, like that of a child’.
So how does he takes shape we ask and he says ‘it is his doing. He comes as vision, as an image in the mind, the way he would like to be crafted and that’s how we just let him be crafted out of our hands’.
Ask a devotee and they will vouch that the adorable ‘child like‘ yet mighty Ganesha has looked the same over the years, just growing more powerful, adorned with more jewels and ornaments, and attracting larger crowds every passing year.
When we visited him on Monday (29 August), he was all set, wearing his bright blue dhoti and seated royal resting his arms of glittering velvety dark blue cushions.
‘He is now our creation. But once he is adorned with all his jewels and rises from this spot to head there, he is completely different. When we go see him there at Sanghaniketan, he is no longer an idol we crafted.'
'For us, like for everyone who visits him those five days, he is a true fulfiller of all wishes and our utmost faith rests in him,’ says Rao.
Also, no fixed charge is levied for the making of these idols. The makers accept whatever is offered by those who ask for the idols to be made.
And on Tuesday (30 August) evening, he had left all adorned with jewels minus his crown, to the venue, where he will officially ‘arrive’ from the abode of his parents in Kailash on Wednesday, this Bhadrapada Shukla Chaturthi.
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