The festive mood at Mohapatra household in Old Town of the city is hard to miss. Dusherra is more about Ravana than Goddess Durgra for this family engaged in making effigies of the Demon King for the last two decades. This year, Sobharani had her hands full with 11 orders. Her three daughters, Neena, Jhunu and Kuni, busily painted the ten faces of Ravana while son Bapuni worked on a new colour combination on his computer for the effigies put up for drying on the terrace.
This family of artists shifted to Bhubaneswar from a small village in Khurda district, about 35 years ago. Sobha and her husband Rajkishore earned a living by making Pattachitra and carving out wooden and stone sculptures.They got the first order for Ravana effigy from Bhimakund Durga Puja Committee.
This year, they created 45 feet tall effigies for Durga mandaps at Damana, Chandashekharpur, Naharkanta, Baramunda, Jatni, Baragarh, Ganganagar and Bhimtangi among others.“There were times when effigies as tall as 100 feet were created. We did one for the pandal at Nayapalli,” said Sobharani.
The family gets down working a month before the festivity. “Creating bamboo frames comprises chunk of the work, almost 70 per cent, and takes about 15 days to complete,” said Bapuni.
They work with cloth, paper, nails, ropes, gum and colours to create the huge structures. “Everyday 5 to 6 kg of ‘maida’ is cooked for making glue. It takes about 4 to 5 hours to ready it. For the 11 Ravanas, we needed around 70 to 80 kg of glue,” said Sobha.
The clothes, mostly old stock saris, are procured from wholesalers at half the cost. These are dipped in the glue and spread over the bamboo frame. “We need at least 20 saris for one Ravana effigy. Five for the body and four for the legs and the rest for the other body parts and shoes. The effigies were earlier made with only bamboo and papers. “We started using cloth a few years ago as papers would soak in rain and get spoiled. It is now pasted only at the joints of the cloth for a smooth finish,” she said.
Distemper is now being used instead of water colours to prevent the colours from getting washed away in the rain. “To make an effigy attractive, we have introduced a few other elements like shoes and fist to hold the sword,” said Rajkishore.
The rising cost of materials made them do away with some decoratives like moustache made of jute. “Now, we paint the entire face, body and legs. It is then decorated with glitters, mirrors and zari,” said Ramachandra Mohapatra, Sobha’s brother who along with his two sons at times help her meet the deadline of the orders.
The effigies of Kumbhakarna and Meghnad too have been done away with. “It used to be lot of work then. The puja committees have cut down on the Ravana Podi budget and are ordering only for the effigy of the Demon King,” he added.
They spend around Rs 6,000 on an effigy, which is sold for Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000. “There isn’t much profit in the effigy making, but we enjoy doing it. My house is abuzz with activity. My grandchildren have started helping me in the work. In a way, Ravana makes the festival worth celebrating,” said Sobha.
The effigies are transported in truck to the pandals a day ahead of Dusherra. They send a few workers to fit the structure at the ground where Ravana Podi is organised. The Demon King being set ablaze and falling to the ground is a sight to behold. The colourful fireworks add to the fun. The Mahapatra family has been contributing their bit to this fiery end to Dusherra. Sometimes, the orders are too much for them to handle. People like the finishing in their work and moreover, there are only a few effigy makers in the city.
The family is also called for painting chariots during Rath Yatra and marriage mandaps in big hotels. “We also apply mehendi and marriage seasons are particularly busy time for us,” said Sobha. They take orders for school projects and hold art classes at homes. “We have also got an order to paint motifs on shirts. The work will start once we are done with the effigies,” she added.