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The Ganesha wonder woman!

Thursday, September 20, 2018
Photographs by Azad Shrivastav

It is one thing to achieve success, but it is a different thing to consistently keep raising the bar and outdo your own performance.  Something similar has been experienced by Rama Shah Kesarwala, who BBC called the 'Ganesha Woman of India' for achieving a rare and remarkable feat of creating hand-made Ganesh idols that have made it to record books not just in India, but also left a global footprint. Credited for having successfully made over 4 lakh idols in her ‘career’ (she calls it a hobby) spanning 18 years, the selfless artist speaks to ADC's Dev Kotak on her journey, the success that followed and her undeterred spirit, resolve and unending efforts to keep helping individuals in our society.

As one enters Rama Shah's house, a sense of calm and a spiritually elevating aura grips the devotees, who come to pay their visits to the Ganesha idols and seek blessings and guidance of the 56-year-old lady. The Sion-based world record holder already seemed fatigued with the bevy of press reporters, but yet agreed to meet the reporter and quickly sat down to interact, as she narrated her achievements and the important events that span her two decade (almost) long contributions (making idols), with childlike enthusiasm.

Hailing from Nadiad in Gujarat, Shah was always a creative person and began by creating Ganeshas out of areca nuts (supari) and soap as a child and now here she is featured in records books: Guinness, Limca, Ripley's Believe it or Not and many more for her laudable feat. And mind you making all of this blindfolded, is anything but easy.

Simply dressed, full of energy she tells me about the 1,800 small idols that are on display in her house, she says her family's contribution, support and constant co-operation has helped her attain dizzying heights of success.   

On her list of notable dignitaries to have received her hand-crafted idols are PM Narendra Modi, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani, Hema Malini, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev and Sunita Willaims to name a few.

“For me, it all began in 2000 when Lord Ganesha appeared in my dream, wearing bright, shiny gold ornaments, blessing me. The very next day I embarked on my journey of making these idols,” she says.

When asked if she charges people or sells these idols outside, she strongly refutes it.

“There is no commercial activity or monetary angle to what I do. Without expectations for rewards I keep working and that's why I have come this far.”  

Not one to stop, she produced remarkable creations that made heads turn and soon became a talking point. The talent that was emerging to the fore was being noticed.  

“The Vallabh Ashram school that was run by swamis were going to have the golden jubilee celebrations of their school and they happened to come home and saw my work. They were greatly impressed and asked me to display the idols and keep it open for people to seek blessings and pray (darshan). Maybe they expected 999 idols, but I gave 9,999 and it left them flabbergasted. The exhibition was for three days, but they had to extend it. Imagine it took 99 tables to display all of it. 25,000-30,000 devotees came,” she adds.  

NAZREIN MILA NA! NAH
Doing basic chores and activities in daily life with shut eyes can be so difficult, but Shah makes idols blindfolded. Obstructed vision and yet doing something so hard is rare and sends viewers and devotees into a tizzy, it’s almost so unbelievable that it makes one wonder 'Is this even possible?'

What's more is that she has performed the act (of idol making) live, in front of an audience for three, four hours at a stretch, leaving the crowd mesmerised.

Making these idols with ‘shlokas’ and mantras on her lips and without a mould, blindfolded, she wakes up every morning at 3:00 am as she feels the brahma mahurat is auspicious and is able to concentrate better, besides the increased input. “I am more creative in the dead of the night as there are creative ideas kicking in.”

Every devotee at the devout Jain's house returns with one (gift) of her handmade, attractive, washable and unbreakable idols.

Many people who took the idols have either had their problems erased or tasted success in something that had for long eluded them.

SETTING RECORDS STRAIGHT
The best part about Shah's work is not only the creative marvels she comes up with, but also the records she laps up in the process, something that she is not consciously aiming for, making all of it look like a cakewalk.  

Her current count is pegged at 4,00,500 idols created so far in these many years. Created a world record of making 999 idols in 24 hours, completed 99,999 idols in 9 years by 9.9.2009, Guinness world record for making 18,181 idols and made idols for 12 hours non-stop at Siddhivinayak Temple. The 'Ganesha lady' has a few notable mentions and has been featured in/ by BBC (All over the place serial), Guinness World Record, World Record (two) Academy, Limca book of Records (17 times), Unique World Records, World Records India, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Best of India Record, Woman of the Year (from 2004-11) and Star Talent Award by Star Plus.

She has done a fine job in maintaining equilibrium to fuel her 'religious passion' and yet use empathy to tackle the problems of people who approach her. Neatly managing her responsibilities of personal life (she lives with her husband and has two daughters and a son), her undying determination (to carry on making idols) and public life (dedicated to social service and public welfare), the supremely talented individual has taken massive strides in becoming the epitome of happiness and success, besides winning awards and earning respect and honour for herself, her family and India at large.

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