Idols have always been an essential part of religious expression in Indian culture. Archaeologists have uncovered seals from the Indus Valley Civilization with images of Lord Shiva engraved on them. They have been a way to communicate with God, the 'supreme' being. Growing up in a similar religious setting, I have found myself instinctively joining hands at every sight of a God or Goddess, venerating silently and asking the divine to bless me; without giving much thought to what’s behind the image.
One fine Sunday morning, I was sitting with the newspaper in my balcony, when I noticed these people making idols in an open complex nearby. I wondered what the festival was, for which they were preparing these idols. Being an amateur photographer, my first instinct was to capture this process of ‘Faith in the making’. So I set out with my camera to put a frame to my imaginative expression. On close observation of the unfinished idols, I could not help but question the contrast between faith and fact. I realized that all the idols go through a set process of production (fact) to become the final product that 1 billion people look up to (faith). Faith, which in my opinion is an incomplete understanding of the ‘supreme’; a belief in the mind that restricts it to worship the image. How many people really think beyond it? Does anyone put their mind to the fact that it is essentially an object made of a framework of wood, layered with wet clay and hay and finished with paints? It is a standard process similar to the one used to make varying things from thatched roof which last for a long time to piggy banks which are very temporary.
The difference here is that an artisan put his day and night into it for months, because he believes he is serving the Lord. He put his art into each of the constituent elements:
- Head – beautiful face with the crown to elicit respect
- Arms – several arms holding various objects illustrating power
- Body – with perfect curves to illustrate feminism yet draped completely to display humility
- Feet – interacting with ground yet not so much so that people can come forward and touch them as a mark of respect.
It is astonishing that something so materialistic and ephemeral, which is brought to life by a simple artisan, defines the identity of so many people. And, no one seems to recognize that after all, it is just another mass-produced object.