Calm and taciturn, the Lekhani workers for Ganpati idols carefully move their thin brushes to add colours inside the sculpted eye of the idol. By trying to find solace amid the chaos, they struggle to concentrate on colouring the cornea as precisely in the centre as possible, without which the purpose of making the statue falls apart.
“The eyes of the Ganpatis must be made in such a way that a devotee feels as if Bappa is looking at him or her, from any angle they stand at. Painting it exactly at the centre of his eye and supplementing it with some colour shades will only make the idol alive for the devotees,” said Kishore Kesrikar (48), one of the Lekhani workers who has been working at Parel Village for the last 30 years. If the eye is painted at the exact centre, no matter where a person stands to look at the idol, he or she will feel as if the eye is looking right at them.
Out of the many sculptors and painters of idols in the city, only a select few pride themselves to be the Lekhani artists, experts at making the eyes, naam on the forehead and resha on the trunk of Ganpati. Considered to be a work devised only for experts, other painters fear taking the job knowing its importance.
“Only after considerable years of experience of painting Ganesh idols can one take the brush and try experimenting with the Lekhani. During my learning days, I first tried my hand on practice models before beginning to paint them for commercial use. Till today, I strive to gather myself before letting the brush touch the idol,” he added.
After the mould is made, it is given a proper finishing and then white-washed for the painter’s ease. They then begin with adding skin colour to the idol, followed with painting the ‘Pitambar and shalu’ (clothes) for the deity and some additional shading. A Lekhani artist’s work comes right at the end of the process — he or she finishes the sculpture.
“We start with making a circle with the colour blue in the centre as it can be covered or erased with other colours easily. After making the circle, we distance ourselves from the idol to check if we have been able to place it right at the centre. We then add the colours black and brown to his eye followed with some colours to give shades and then move on to making the lids, eyebrows and the rest,” said Dadasaheb Katalkar (60), another Lekhani artist. Katalkar indulges in Lekhani after 7 pm every evening after finishing his duty as a textile painter in the day. What comes after this is making the naam and resha for the Ganpatis, which is also a tough job, they say. “The naam for Ganesh must also be placed exactly at the centre of the two eyes. It consists painting an ‘Om’ at the centre. The resha on his trunk must also be exactly below the naam,” said Katalkar.
The Lekhani work at least requires an hour, he said. Most of them are either commercial artists or have learned after many years of experience on the field. “I learnt the work from my guru Jagannath Bapu Chavan who had worked for more than 80 years in designing Lekhanis for the idols. During those days only a few people would be called everywhere to give finishing. With an increase in pandals and painting courses across various schools, learned artists also try their hand at Lekhani these days,” said Kesrikar.
“The Lekhani is made keeping in mind the expression on the Ganpati’s face. It is necessary his eyes are made in such a way that they express the feelings of the deity towards his devotees — which completes the connection between the two,” said Katalkar.
While the pay scale for Lekhani artists also depends upon the sale of Ganpatis in their respective workshops, it is the pleasure received through designing something so important more than the money which satisfies them, they say.
“When a devotee sees an idol, he will first look at the eye of the deity. I take pride in making Ganesh’s eyes in such a way that viewers must feel that the Lord is looking up on them. In a way, I am opening the eyes of the Lord to the people who welcome him with bated breaths each year,” said Katalkar.