Although Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival of Bangalee Hindus, is only a month away, idol artisans of Sylhet are passing time without any work as there is a slump in orders for making idols.
Every year, artisans across the country are busy making idols at this time. But, the picture is different this year as Covid-19 has dashed all hopes of idol artisans who wait for Durga Puja all the year round.
As a result, the artisans are going to face huge financial losses.
The celebrations will start on October 22 with Maha Sashthi and end with Bijoya Dashami on October 26 with the immersion of idols in rivers and canals.
Shankar Paul, who has been making idols for 25 years, said he has never had to pass time idly during Durga Puja. Instead, many orders have to be refused due to work pressure. But so far this year no one has come with an order to make an idol.
He has never been in such a bad situation in his professional life of two and a half decades.
"I have started making some idols in the hope that someone will come at the last moment. If these are not sold, I will be in big trouble," Shankar, the owner of Santoshi Protima Ghor, said while talking to The Business Standard at the Dariapara area of Sylhet City, a hub for idol-making businesses.
"I have never been in such a crisis with my livelihood," he said.
This year almost every artisan has experienced the same situation like Shankar.
Sagar Paul, an iconic artist from Sylhet echoed the same.
He said, "I have lost Tk8-10 lakh this year. Additionally, I booked the artisans in advance so that there would be no problem in getting the artisans peak season. But the artisans have to be returned as we have yet to get any order for making an idol."
Anjan Paul, an idol-maker from Habiganj's Baniachong Upazila, said he has received orders to make only two idols so far this year. In other years, orders for making 10 to 15 large idols would come at this time.
Such a downturn has been going on since the Bangla month of Chaitra (March). The idols, which were made earlier for other pujas, remain unsold and are getting damaged, causing huge losses, he added.
He said, "If the situation continues during Durga Puja, then I will have to beg to run my family."
People involved in idol-making said people's budget cut in Puja celebration and maintaining health guidelines have badly affected the idols-making business, pushing artisans into hardship.
They said more than 200 people are involved in this sector in the district.
In Sylhet division, 2,545 Sarbojonin Durga Pujas were performed last year. Besides, hundreds of families arrange puja personally. But many have cut the puja budget this year due to the financial crisis triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Biplob Paul, joint general secretary of Trinoyoni Sarbojonin Puja Committee in the city, said, "Due to Covid-19, we will arrange puja this year following the government's instructions."
He said, "There are many deficits in the budget this year. We used to go door to door collecting money for the celebration of puja. However, this time we have refrained from collecting donations due to Covid-19.
Rajat Kanti Gupta, general secretary of the Sylhet city unit of the Puja Udjapan Parishad, said, "We have yet to receive the complete list of puja mandaps from the district and upazila units."
He added that this year, the cultural program, arti competitions and fair will not be arranged at puja mandaps. However, it will not be as festive as before due to the financial crisis and health guidelines.