Mathura: humans love their fashion, so do the Hindu gods, particularly Sri Krishna, perhaps Hinduism’s most popular divnity, who needs ever new costumes with dazzling colours and attractive patterns.
A few years ago, there was a furore when an over-enthusiastic priest donned Sri Krishna, the presiding deity of Vrindavan, in jeans, a check shirt, a hat and goggles. Describing this as an aberration, the priest was removed, but the urge to dress up ‘Thakur-ji’ in the latest that is available in the market sustains the thriving "poshak (clothing for a deity) industry" of Mathura-Vrindavan.
Ahead of the Sri Krishna Janmashtmi (birthday) on Saturday, big showrooms and shopkeepers in Mathura and Vrindavan are witnessing brisk sale of poshaks, particularly for Radha and Krishna, as also Laddo Gopal and Saligram.
"We have moved a long way from the conventional one-piece poshak of routine material. Creative minds have now introduced an array of colourful costumes, studded with precious stones, exquisite embroidery and glittering strips of expensive 'gota' (embroidery using applique technique)," said Deepak Parikh, a shopkeeper of Mathura.
Also being sold are dazzling showpieces, decorative items, bansuries (flutes), remote-controlled toys for the little Shri Krishna and dazzling hindolas and jhulas (swings).
Mathura, in the past few years, has emerged as the country's main hub for poshaks and related knick-knacks.
The industry engages hundreds of skilled Hindu and Muslim workers who produce the dresses and decorative items at their homes or in units set up by big showrooms.
"The dresses are being couriered daily to dozens of foreign countries, for Sri Krishna temples and individuals. The poshaks are also sold in Nathdwara (in Rajasthan), but the chief manufacturing centre is Mathura-Vrindavan," Man Mohan Sharma, a wholesaler, told IANS. The main buyers are in the US, Britain, Russia, Australia, Mauritius and wherever Hindus are settled.
While the Muslim workers specialise in embroidery, intricate needlework and zardozi (sewing with gold string), Hindus do the sewing and stitching of the dresses, weaving attractive patterns and curls that catch the eye. It has become a round-the-year business.
"Each season the dresses change, the materials used change. For winter, we have to provide sweaters, caps and socks while in summer it's the light shades of cotton and satin," Sharma added.
Dresses with decorative material, a wide range of garlands, stone-studded necklaces, ornaments, bansuris and sinhasan (thrones) for the deities, umbrellas, cows and birds are in great demand.
"Pilgrims from all over India visit Braj Bhoomi; when they return they buy the colourful dresses for their deities," Sharma said, adding that right now, because of the Janmashtmi festival pressure, the skilled workers and shopkeepers are overloaded with demand and are working overtime.
The craftsmen give a glittering look to the basic dresses at Vrindavan but Pappu Bhai one such individual who has been working for over 30 years, lamented that the state government had some years ago issued identity cards but nothing else was done to help improve their economics.
Many skilled workers suffer from eye problems, working long hours on zardozi, said many of them, complaining that they got only around Rs.400 a day. If there was demand pressure, they could make Rs.50 to Rs.100 extra per hour.
The Pro Poor Tourism project of the World Bank has included this sector for promotion in a big way. Arrangements are likely to be made soon for opening an exclusive market run by the producers themselves so that the profits are passed on to actual production units.
While the skilled workers, for all their hard work and creativity, get peanuts as earnings, it's the big sharks with a chain of outlets and the middlemen who arrange for raw materials and marketing of finished products who make the big bucks, many craftsmen complained.
"But the market is growing and new avenues are opening up, which promise to benefit the workers too," Ladli Mohan, a shopkeeper of Vrindavan, said.