Gods, now made in China - Idols from communist neighbour flood India

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By GAJINDER SINGH in Chandigarh
  • Published 13.08.05

Chandigarh, Aug. 13: You no longer have to be a Maoist for your god to come from China.

Shiva has shifted residence from Kailash to the land of the Great Helmsman, and Vishnu, Lakshmi and Ganesh have followed suit.

After toys and dolls, communist China ? where there are strict curbs on religious practice ? has flooded Indian markets with images of Hindu gods and goddesses. And the religious-minded are bowing before their superior quality.

“Containers are landing in Mumbai by the dozens every month. Not a single idol goes unsold; there’s a mad scramble for them. I’m struggling to cope with the demand,” said Balwant Singh, who runs a gift shop in Mohali.

“The buyers come and ask for images of different gods and goddesses, but will accept only those made in China. Not many buy Indian-made idols now.”

What makes the Chinese idols so attractive?

“Their finish is excellent. They are made of synthetic material and are very colourful,” said another gift shop owner in Chandigarh, Inder Kumar Sethi. “The customer would take one look at a Chinese idol and immediately settle for it.”

“There is also more variety in these idols,” Singh continued. “They are unbreakable and can be washed. The Indian ones are heavier and not as well polished. Their shelf-life is very short but the price is cheap.”

The ones paying a heavy price are the manufacturers in Moradabad, Meerut, Hyderabad and Jaipur.

“They (the Chinese) have taken over our market for toys, cutlery, nail-cutters and many other items. Now they have taken over our gods as well,” a dealer rued. “We should ban their import.”

From Chandigarh, the Ganeshas, Lakshmis and Kalis have been finding their way to religious centres like Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, Amritsar in Punjab and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, where the demand is high.

Inquiries revealed the idols are supplied by firms located mainly in Fujin, China. “The units only specialise in images of Indian gods. If they make a mistake, they replace the idols immediately,” a dealer said.

“In any case, the Indian idol-making industry was limping,” another said resignedly. “Now with the Chinese intrusion, many units will have to shut down.”

For the moment, though, Kumartuli with its heavy, custom-made idols seems safe enough.