The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store in New Delhi's Square One Mall, Saket, will have a rather special addition to its fare in mid-October - a Ganesha, modelled after a 15th-century Thai statue, in the museum's collection.
The bonded bronze, hand-patinated Ganesha, which depicts the Indian deity seated cross-legged on a raised pedestal, was introduced last month in New York and only around 25 of the 300-400 limited edition pieces will hit the Indian market.
The Ganesha was developed, says Karane Jain, CEO and brand custodian (India), out of his consultations with Met Store officials in the US on coming up with products that have a special resonance in India, where the Met set up shop last year. The Ganesha is not, of course, the first Hindu deity to be replicated by the Met.
There's a statue of Uma, based on a Nepalese figure, which is one of the faster moving products at the Met's New Delhi store - five were brought in last month and only three remain. The Uma is priced at Rs 19,000 (the Ganesha will be priced similarly, says Jain).
The Met is not the only American/European brand making Hindu gods and goddesses, and expensive ones at that. There's Lladro, the Spanish maker of hand-crafted porcelain figures, which has come up with a limited edition Lakshmi this year, in addition to a Bansuri Ganesha and a Veena Ganesha, priced at Rs 1,64,500.
In fact, Lladro has been making Hindu deities for the past five years now, having come up with its first Ganesha in 2002. The company, says Amar Agarwal, managing director of SPA Group (Lladro's partner in India), had been getting requests for such manifestations of Indian mythology and culture for 15 years but was scared to get into it for fear of offending religious sensibilities.
"Nowhere else does Lladro make such religious figures." As it turned out, Lladro needn't have feared. Over the years, the Lladro Spice of India has had Radha-Krishna, little Kanhaiyan, the cow, two yoga postures, and coming up are two more variations of Ganesha - a dancing one, and another playing the damroo.
Daum, the more-than-a-century-old French maker of exquisite objets d'art and jewellery, too has been making Hindu deities. In fact, says Mridu Mohta, manager of Ganga Expressions, its distributor in India, Daum was the pioneer here as it came up with its first Ganesha in 2000.
Over the years it has added to its pantheon images of Lakshmi, Radha-Krishna and Tirupati. Speaking of how the market has grown, she says, "Initially, the company wasn't sure how these figurines would do and we had to give 100 per cent buy-back guarantee. But they did very well. People bought them to worship in their homes, or as housewarming gifts. Now, of course, companies are not emphasising so much on the religious aspect as they are on the decorative."
The Ganesha, of course, is quite a favourite, having been attempted by other well-known names like Frazer & Haws, Lalique and Baccarat. Lalique came up with a crystal Ganesha way back in 2001, and this year it is coming up with a Lakshmi. Unfortunately, it won't be available in India, since Lalique doesn't have a showroom here, or distribution arrangements with any local agency. Similarly, the Baccarat Ganesha too was never sold in India.
Interestingly, there's an Indian company in the business of these high-end, exclusive, expensive deities. D'mart Exclusif, a venture by the Dolpin Group, conceptualises and designs figures of Hindu deities, and then gets them hand-crafted by companies in Italy and Germany.
Linea Argenti in Italy is the manufacturer of its cast-silver range of Ganeshas, Saraswatis, Durgas, Ram Durbars and Balaji (recently introduced), while Ormolu, a German company, makes its line of porcelain and bronze deities.
All of these lines come in limited editions - a limitation imposed by its hand-crafted production that they've made into their calling card in the luxury market.
Naturally, prices are quite high - starting from Rs 15,000- 20,000 for the small two-six inches tall figures that Daum now makes, and going up to Rs 2-2.5 lakh for brands like Lalique and Baccarat. And given rising incomes and a neo-religious upsurge among the Gen X, there's no dearth of buyers.
Agarwal reports a 200 per cent year-on-year growth for Lladro in India. For the Lakshmi, Lladro has a more than three months long waiting list, which means bookings for the 400 or so idols set aside for India (of the 2,000 idols in this edition) is as good as sold. Not just that, being collectibles, Agarwal says there's a thriving market for a range after its been retired by the company.
"The Ganesha which we priced at Rs 69,000 in 2002 is quoting at Rs 7.5 lakh." But not everyone is similarly optimistic. Mohta of Ganga Expressions says the market has plateaued of late.
"After all, how many figures can you keep inside the mandir at your home? So companies are now taking to innovations like Ganesha playing the bansuri, or dancing, which you can keep in the drawing room as well."
Temple or drawing room, it is clear that Indians can't seem to have enough of these branded deities.