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How moortikars answer the trunk call

How moortikars answer the trunk call

Author: Bella Jaisinghani
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 9, 2007

Santosh Kambli makes Ganesh idols for the world when it asks, but before installing one in his own home he thought fit to seek the permission of his family deity. "It was necessary to get a koul or a signal that doing so would be in my best interests,'' says the moortikar whose family has been making the Lalbaugcha Raja since its installation in 1935.

The moortikar community has its own unwritten code that springs from a mix of personal belief and work ethic. "The priests at Siddhivinayak use a separate lift that takes them right to where the idol is, so that the god is not defiled by their contact with other people. For us, we may clamber all over the idol while work is in progress, but our sentiments and faith are as strong,'' says Santosh's father, Ratnakar Kambli.

As if to prove him right, a pre-teen idol maker in Ramesh Rawle's workshop stands with one foot resting on the idol's thigh and the other on the arm. "Before we begin work, we break the customary coconut or shrifal and request Lord Ganesh to forgive our transgressions and mistakes. Having to stand on his idol is one of them,'' says Santosh. Interestingly, the idol is considered incomplete until its eyes are ready. "Once that is done, we tread carefully,'' Santosh adds.

Individual beliefs may vary but the basic rules remain constant. No idol-maker will agree to make a Ganesh idol with its trunk turned to the right. Such idols, like Siddhivinayak, are extremely powerful and therefore treated with great caution. Before starting out on an idol like this one requires the presence of 100 Brahmins, freshly bathed and dressed in dhotis.

Moortikars say that any lapse in ritual will incur the wrath of god. "No sarvajanik mandal or household will install an idol whose trunk curls right,'' says mandal president Jitendra Chavan as he watches his Chira Bazarcha Raja being made. Rawle believes a recent accident that almost claimed his arm is punishment for having tried to craft an idol with a right-facing trunk.

He adds, "My workshop is like a temple. None of the artisans would dream of eating fish or smoking and drinking in the vicinity,'' says Chavan.

A moortikar's task ends before the elephant-headed figure acquires the status of a god. The belief goes that an idol is sanctified only after the consecration has been performed. "Once the buyer takes it home he performs the pranpratishtha puja, which literally means breathing life into the idol,'' says Rawle. It is then that the sculpture acquires the powers attributed to it.

For the moortikar, it's back to the drawing board. Rawle prepares the customary first idol to install in his own office. "We begin work for the forthcoming year on Dassera day. On that day, we immerse the existing idol and immediately replace it with a new one to signal that work has begun for next year. The throne is never vacant,'' he says, pointing to a beautiful grey-coloured Ganpati sitting on a steel cupboard.

- bella.jaisinghani@timesgroup.com

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