Although, the ten-day long festivities are at its peak for the day of Vijaydashmi (Dussehra), when the effigies of the demon king, Ravan along with his brother Kumbhkaran and son Meghnad are erected before they are burnt to ashes, the actual preparations begin much earlier.
The deft fingers start giving the shape to the demon king’s curly mustaches, broad lips and bulging eyes right after Rakshabandhan in August and turns Titarpur, a small village in West Delhi into a factory that churns out effigies of the demon king of Lanka. For two months the Ravanwallas work day and night to erect giant effigies. Here, evil is custom-made, that too in all shapes, sizes and colors and brings good fortune.
Sitting under a workshop surrounded by golden, silver paper cuttings with his co-workers under the banner of Khanna Ravanwalla, Rajesh proudly claims to be one of the oldest and the most efficient Ravan-maker of Titarpur. 40-years-ago, Rajesh learned the art of effigy making from his ustaad (master) – Chuttanlal Sawhney.
He tells that originally there are just 3 families from Titarpur, who make the Ravan effigies. Most of the rest Ravan makers are the migrants from Gujarat, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They begin their work around August and buy bamboo sticks from Nangloi and tear them apart and tie them together to make the effigy frames. They also buy discarded silk Sarees from the dealers selling second-hand goods to cover the frames. All the parts are made separately, and eventually assembled together. The women in the family also help in coloring and decorating the effigies.
According to Rajesh, they are blessed by Ravan Baba, a businessman dealing with funeral items, who lived in their village more than 50 years ago. The legend goes like this: A man from Sikandarabad got settled in Titarpur and sold funeral items for his living and gradually started making the Ravan effigies. The children in the village sat next to him even as he tore the bamboo and gradually learned the art by seeing him.
The minimum cost price of an effigy is Rs 1,000-3,500 and it is sold at anything between Rs 3,500 and Rs 8,000. Though 70 per cent of Ravan effigies are still lying alongside the road unsold, most of the business happens during the last 2 or 3 days of the Ramleela.
Inspired by Anna Hazare’s movement, many effigies have the word ‘corruption’ written on them and they are proving themselves as this year’s hot sellers. A new design, which is also popular these days, is a two-faced Raavan; one in golden colour and the other in silver.
Challenges of being an effigy maker are tedious. With roads busy in the day time, Ravan effigy makers prefer working during the night as there is less traffic on the road during night. One of the worker also told that they are required to entertain cops who allow them to use road side for the trade on regular basis. He also added that bikers also serve as an utter nuisance for them during night by tearing off the faces of the effigies.
For generations they have been shaping the varied faces of evil- the symbolic ones – but today a real-life evil has cast a shadow on their business. Amidst high labour and production cost and falling demand from the clients, the makers here in Titarpur are facing an uncertain future. But, the problem goes far deeper. “The profit margin is very low and people don’t consider their profession as respectable. It is for this reason most of them does not want their children to continue with this occupation.
Their creations may symbolize the victory of good over evil, but for these artisans it is a lot more than that. For the world Ravan would be a demon but for the Ravan Makers he is their ‘Annadata’, source of livelihood. Such is the attachment with these otherwise silent-structures, that the effigy-makers never watch them burning.