Businesses associated with the festival in the Mathura-Vrindavan belt are struggling for survival

As the COVID-19 pandemic casts its shadow on Janmashtami, businesses associated with the festival in the Mathura-Vrindavan belt are struggling for survival. The worst hit are the artisans who dress up the idols of Lord Krishna. Spread across villages of Mathura and Aligarh districts, thousands of artisans specialise in creating poshaks (dresses), mukuts (head gear) and kanthi mala (holy sandalwood rosary) of Lord Krishna and Radha that are supplied to different parts of the country and even abroad.

“This ‘season’ —July and August — has gone almost dry,” said Mohd Gulzar, a third-generation mukut-making artist. “It is an art that has been passed on by our forefathers,” said Mr. Gulzar who gives job work to women in neighbouring villages. “I give the finishing touch to each one of them,” he said with a tinge of pride.

Mr. Gulzar said around 60%-70% of such artisans are Muslims. “The previous stock hasn’t been sold because of lack of demand and the raw material has become expensive.”

Goverdhan Agarwal, who runs the popular Goverdhan Mukutwale shop in the heart of the sacred city, echoes his point of view. The fourth-generation businessman said he had never seen such a dull Janmashtami. “The sales have come down to less than 20%. The temples are closed for public and the devotees are too scared to come.”

Most of the business, he added, comes on Saturday and Sunday, but the State government had declared lockdown on both days. “We can’t do much except for waiting for our Thakurji to come to our rescue.”

Another group that is affected is that of artistes who perform in Raaslilas and Ramleelas. “The administration had denied us permission to perform. If the film shooting could start, why not Raasleelas,” said Anil Swami, who runs Shri Ramleela Sabha with 40 artistes. “We make ₹2-₹3 lakh during the festival which helps us sustain through the year.”

The district administration has announced that all the temples in the region would remain closed for devotees till August 13.

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