The dimly lit bylanes and rain soaked roads of Kumartuli — Kolkata’s historic district of potters on the banks of the Hooghly river — is abuzz with activity this Durga Puja. “There is no extra stock (unsold idols),” says artisan Sujit Pal. But still he and his brothers have little to cheer.

There was a time when getting a Kumartuli artisan to design a Durga idol was seen as a status symbol. But, for the second year in a row, orders for the Durga idols are down — by 30-40 per cent — and international orders have been at their lowest, up to 50 per cent of normal years. Most sales have been on a no-profit-no-loss basis like last year.

High raw material cost

According to the idol-makers, the average price this year has been hovering at ₹70,000, down from the pre-pandemic levels of ₹1.2 lakh.

On the other hand, they say raw material costs — jute, rope and coir, mud, adhesives, among others — have risen by 20-40 per cent. Sujit, the treasurer of the Kumartuli Mritsilpa Sanskriti Samity,the largest artisan organisation, says that in 2019, orders touched 4,000-5,000 idols. They halved in 2020. This year, the 100 odd potters’ studios here have got 3,000 orders.

Subdued demand

Until 2019, when Bengal’s ₹30,000-crore-plus Puja economy was booming, big orders would start as early as March. This year, orders remained subdued till July-end.

Artisans have cut back on helpers. They say several buyers have opted for smaller idol sizes. Several puja organisers are placing orders with local artisans (non-Kumartulis), who are at least 40 per cent cheaper.

Normally, at least 40 per cent orders come from non-Kolkata clubs and puja organisers.

But this year orders from North Bengal districts have practically dried up.