Old Dhaka's Shyambazar Ghat – coated with the haphazardness of dust, chaos, and nose-burning smell of masalas – is standing on the bank of River Buriganga. The fetid river water only intensified the pandemonium of this bazar.
On this very putrid water, arrived eight trawlers – carrying the goddess of knowledge, mud-made Saraswati – assembled in thousands. A tranquil hubbub unfolded, centring the colourful goddesses.
The Saraswati puja of the Hindu people set this busyness in motion. The crowd includes sellers, buyers, and helping hands.
Some claim, this haat is 60-year-old. Every year, the market sits before the Saraswati puja. Making it a full-fledged bazar, this place offers all the puja essentials for the devotees.
The paal (sculptors) are mostly from Bikrampur. Artisan Akila Paul has been coming to this haat for the last 30 years. He shared, in his father's time, Kadamtali Ghat was the place for this haat – which later shifted to Shyambazar.
Most of the sculptors are continuing this trade as their family business. Even though the men handle the hat-bazar business, the female members of a family contribute in half of the sculpting process.
Each sculptor brings about 100 idols on an average – half of them are sold within the first two days, the other half is sold on the day before the puja only. Most artisans wait for the last day, informed sculptor Sanjay. This puja sale is the only source of income for many families, said Shangkar Paul, a regular at the Shyambazar haat.
The buyers are many – gathering from all around the city. Their preferences are set by the colour, size, and shape of the idol. If all are met, the haggle begins. The selling price always depends on the bargaining capacity of a customer, informed one artisan.
Swapan Kumar Saha, a retired banker, is coming here for the last eight years. This year, he is bringing home a four-foot white Saraswati. "Shyamghat Bazar is the ideal place," marked Mr Swapan as this haat never disappointed him.
Eight-year-old Ritwik Kundu was very excited for a big and grand debi (goddess), but his mother wanted one with a round face and calming eyes. Both of their demands were met finding a five-foot Saraswati at one of the trawlers.
The artisans have different sizes of idols starting from one foot to six feet and the price varies from Tk300 to Tk8,000.
Fine-tuning the goddess's Sari with silver sprinkles, Neel Kamol Paul shared that the sales are not satisfactory. He disclosed, "Among the 150 idols I brought, only 60 got sold. It is difficult to sell them all on the last day at my price. I compromise by selling them at a much lower price."
Renting a trawler cost Shangkar Paul Tk85,000, he was worried if he would make that amount from the sales at all this year.
Even though the business seems to go poorly for the artisans, over the years, this haat has created employment opportunities for people. The helping hands – whose duty is to carry the idols from the trawlers to the customers' vehicles – earn Tk10-50 per idol. Small vendors who sell puja essentials can also earn an extra amount in the three days prior to the festival.
With vibrant colours, calming white Saris, and a crown, Saraswati awaits at the bank of Buriganga to bless the devotees' households tomorrow. After an idol is sold, her face is covered as a ritual – it will not be unveiled till the worship begins.
As the haat comes to a closure tonight, the artisans – having a little profit in their pockets – would finally get some rest.