COVID-19: Sales hit, Odisha sculptors struggle to stay afloat

Absence of tourists and cancelled festival celebrations have hit their livelihood

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Wednesday 08 July 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has broken the spirits of stone sculptors of Odisha — life has been on a halt since the the first phase of lockdown and work and money are running low.

“Stone-sculpting has been a source of livelihood since the time of our ancestors. But the virus is pushing us closer to the edge,” said Bipin Moharana, a sculptor from Sukhuapada village.

The most badly hit sculptors belong to Jajpur district’s Sukhuapada; Cuttack district’s Lalitgiri; Balasore district’s Baulagadia and Sora; Keonjhar district’s Dhakota; Kalahanadi district’s Kandhagada; Khordh district’s Tapanga and Naranagada; Mayurbhanj’s Kesana; and Puri district’s Konark. These places are famous for traditional stone engraving and stone-cutting craft.

“The technique of carving is so unique and well-mastered, that an expert can identify the type of stone simply from the sound it emits when it is beaten,” said Moharana.

A majority of families in Sukhuapada cave stones make idols, dancing girls and other items. The lockdown has forced many buyers, especially tourists, to postpone their visit to the state, said Kalpataru Moharana, an artisan.

The craftsmen dependent on daily production and sales are also in distress as major festival celebrations have been cancelled.

“We suffered huge losses due to cyclone Fani in 2019. But the virus besmirched all our hopes,” said Nirmal Moharana (53), a sculptor from village Lalitgiri.

An artist at work in Lalitgiri village, Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati

“Stones don’t perish, they write history. So, when we are creating something, it’s almost like we are re-creating it. It stands witness to our vision for the next generation.”

“Our ancestors made beautiful stone images of the famous Buddhist sites in Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagri,” said Santosh Moharana of Lalitgiri pointing out beautiful Buddha image which he is engrafting on the stone. 

Stone sculpting is Rs 50-crore yearly business in Odisha.

Asit Tripathy, stae chief secretary, said “To give a boost to handloom, textile and handicraft products in post-lockdown scenario, the government has initiated the process for renovating the urban hats at Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri. It will provide a year-round sales platform to domestic and international customers. This would give wider exposure to the artisans and fetch more income against their own products.”

He added that the government will soon announce a special package for artisans hit by COVID-19 in the state.

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