Shrikant Vaman Deodhar and “Pen Cha Ganpati”
With his attire and body posture, Shrikant Vaman Deodhar appears of a grave nature but as you speak to him, he opens up with great warmth; reflecting a witty side to this ardent artist. Born in Pen, of Raigad district he is a well known figure in the art Museums across the globe. Shrikant is instrumental in creating a niche for Indian Sculpture making, especially Ganesha idol across the world. It would not be completely wrong to say that he is seen as the upcoming global face of sculptor and exclusively Ganesha idol maker.
In a tete-e-tete with Sushma Shashidhara, this JJ School of Arts Alumni speaks about his current role as the President of Lord Ganesha Statue Maker and Businessmen Association, his family legacy and on the International workshops, creating a cult for Pen Cha Ganpati.
It started in a small scale at the house courtyard of the Deodar. This family originally belongs to Konkan, his great grandfather Bhiku Tikli migrated to Pen for livelihood. While the culture of idol making dates back to over 100 years it was not taken as a profession. Shrikant recounts, how his earlier generation was not an exclusive Ganesha maker and utilized their skills to run the household.
“Poverty drove the poor families to make the statue and barter them with landlords for food” he says.
Even his Grandfather who stepped into artist’s shoes was engaged in making accessories for festivals. It was he who inculcated the gene of art in the family. Shrikant is a fine example of art-entrepreneur who has lived the ups & downs of his family tradition and profession. He credits his skills especially to his father, Vaman Rao Deodhar who took this family heritage of artistry to the next level.
It was his father and uncle who in 1950′s started taking considering this art seriously and started a factory to manufacture Ganesha idol. He proudly states how during 1950-1980, the Deodhar factory stood as an Institute of Ganesha making to the Pen artisans.
This 4th generation of Deodar narrates how his grandfather wanted to educate his father and uncle, but his early demise pushed the two to work at a very young age for livelihood and took up the family heritage of artistry.
When asked how among the numerous artisans family in Pen where every other household is involved in idol making, the Deodhar family was able to create a niche for itself?
Shrikant pauses for a moment and forms a pose as if he has a lengthy narration to my question.
He says, “Pen is now known for its Ganesha Idol’s but for several decades it has been grabbing focus for its cultural richness. It certainly has the advantage of being situated between two major cities; Pune and Mumbai, but I believe more than everything it was the number of artists flocking to this lesser known city earlier that gave the limelight to this city. The Chitra Kala Kutir at Pen has stood witness to visitors and tenants from cine world to musicians who were charmed by the rich cultural and artistry of this city. And let’s not forget how our country was brought together during the struggle for Independence by Tilak who organized Community Ganesha Festival. Though for political benefit, this really worked wonders during those years of freedom struggle. Pune was the hub of such festivities and Pen also got its due advantage of proximity to the hub of such events.”
Shrikant Deodhar has fought all the limitations that an artist faces to rise to an international stature. It all began with his interaction with Dr. Johanans Beltz. This scholar had come to India to write his research paper about Harijan. Among the series of Indian festivals and customs that he witnessed in Pune, he was completely awed by the Ganesha Festival. He visited Pen on Ganpati Day (August, 2001). But he was in for a huge disappointment as this was the only day in the year when the Idol makers in Pen take a break. He wanted to interact with the artisans and try to know in-depth about this culture. Johanans mentioned during his talks that he would be back by October. He showed great commitment in understanding the process and the relevance of this culture as a tradition and as a means for livelihood. Amidst all these, Shrikant Deodar was not aware about the purpose of this visit, nevertheless he assisted the scholar in the exploration of his project study. It was a year later through an email that he came to know that Dr. Beltz was working on a book that he submitted, Reitberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.
Being a protégé of Sir J.J School, Shrikant Deodar since his graduation had been looking for an avenue to transform the way the “factory” was working. He belonged to a family of sculptors but he wanted to engage and branch himself to explore the possibilities of creating a niche in sculpture making. He had tried to bring changes of working and even mind-set in his initial days at the factory. But the nuances and the complexities involved in changing the way of working was too cumbersome and he adapted himself to the old school of management. But the visit of Dr. Beltz rekindled a ray of hope in him. He was in for a surprise when he was invited by the Museum of Reitberg to conduct a workshop in Sculptor making in Zurich. He was recommended by Dr. Beltz, now the Assistant Curator of Reitberg Museum to visit the country and give a live presentation of Ganesha idol making. Shrikant Deodhar accepted this opportunity which was a great matter of pride for him as an artist and as an Indian who got a chance to display the country’s tradition. It was the year 2003 when he first set foot on the Land of the Alps, Switzerland. He quickly adds how the Indian council of cultural relations (I.C.C.R.) supported his journey from a local to international sculptor.
This journey was just the beginning of a series of visits across continents and series of friendships that he developed in his career as a sculptor and a representative of Indian artists. For his contribution to enhancing the traditional art of Pen, he was elected and has been serving as the President of Lord Ganesha Statue Maker and Businessmen Association since 2000.
When quizzed about his achievements and about his role as committee President, he said “The government knows the importance of this art and we need the support. I am trying my best to stand up to my responsibility towards this cluster and want to create a cult for “Pen Cha Ganpati” across the globe as a model town for Craftsmanship.
Shrikant Deodar is en route bringing revolutionary changes in the way art is seen. With his work appreciated in Europe and US, he is creating a space for Indian artistry, internationally.
About the author
Sushma Shashidhara: With a Masters in Mass Communication, I am a writer by profession and an ardent traveler and photographer by choice. I am extremely gregarious and yet at times I cherish the moments of silence which lets me synchronize thoughts and possible initiatives I could work through my NGO Paatshala. I am witty and I love reading, mostly fiction. With an upbringing in a family which has been involved in socially responsible projects, getting inclined to social work was something inherent for me. I strongly believe that the much awaited change in the mindset of people about social and environmental issues has initiated, mainly due to the proactive participation of youth across continents.
All pics are by Ashutosh Borate