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Cracker of a business for effigy makers this Dussehra

New Delhi: Ravan heads and torsos in every colour and glittering from afar are lined up on the pavement, ready to be picked up and assembled by those who have pre-ordered and last minute buyers. It’s the day before Dussehra when the effigies will go up in flames – and the artisans can’t stop smiling.

It’s a cracker of a business this year, the first “normal” one after Covid. The pandemic shadowed the festivities last year but the 2023 celebratory season seems to have emerged from that cloud.

And the almost two-kilometre stretch of Titarpur in west Delhi is emblematic of that. Touted as one of the largest markets for effigies in South Asia, artisans gather here from all parts of the country to make bamboo replicas of the 10-head demon king and his brothers Meghnad and Kumbhkaran that are shipped all over.

Besides booking from Delhi-NCR and states, including Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, the market this season witnessed a significant jump in orders from abroad as well.

“We exported some effigies to Australia as well. The booking for the order was placed two months back,” said Johnny, a full-time florist in the city and the third generation in his family to be involved in the craft during the festive season.

The 40-year-old hopes to make anywhere between Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh this season.

Titarpur on Monday was arguably among Delhi’s busiest streets.

The Ravans, Kumbhkarans and Meghnads stood tall — their height ranging from two feet to 50 feet — many dispatched, others waiting to be picked up.

The average cost of an effigy is about Rs 400 per foot.

The dozens of artisans who have made Titarpur their home for the last two-three months say business is better than ever before with massive bookings for the effigies — the centrepoint of Dussehra celebrations everywhere.

The painstaking process of making an effigy begins with erecting a bamboo frame, which is then wrapped in layers of paper and fabric glued together. After this, it is left out in the sun to dry and then painted and decorated with different colours and accessories.

The effigies of the three brothers are later stuffed with crackers and set on fire as an age-old retelling of the victory of good over evil.

“Demand achhi hai. Market acchi hai iss baar,” said ‘Ravanwallah Ravi’, smiling broadly as he gave finishing touches to a Ravan head.

Ravi, 47, whose bread and butter is painting flex boards, has been doubling up as an effigy artist for extra money over the past three decades. He has painted over 60 effigies this year — 20 more than last year.

Many of the artisans are daily wage labourers from Rajasthan, Haryana and Bihar. While some take up accommodation close by, others live in tents that come up behind the street.

There are many takers for small and colourful Ravans — ranging anywhere between two to four feet — this year.

As his wife and children give final touches to the effigies, Rajesh Bhatti, 36, who is relatively new in the business, said he has made over 200 such effigies this year.

He expects to make Rs 20,000-40,000 in the season.

“I will use the money for my children, for their clothes, pay the loan that I took to buy material for making these effigies and save the rest for any medical emergency in future as we don’t have anyone to provide for us in those tough times,” said Bhatti.

In other months, he goes from street to street in the city, trading old clothes for utensils, to make his living.

Mahendra Pal, 74, who possibly has been in business for the longest time, does not share the excitement of his much younger peers.

His biggest worry: the prevailing ban on firecrackers in Delhi.

According to Pal, the business can never reach its full potential.

“I wonder why a gram panchayat or nigam parshad candidate winning elections and bursting crackers does not cause pollution, but this festival of Hindus, which depicts the victory of good over evil, does. I request the higher authorities to revoke the ban on firecrackers and let people celebrate the festival with full enthusiasm,” he added.

(Published 23 October 2023, 12:08 IST)

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