City of blinding lights
Shayani Mukherjee writes how Pujas in Salt Lake and New Town secure the community spirit by involving block members in ritual executions and organising meals, making it a personalised affair.
he city of joy, the city with a soul, Kolkata, has much to owe to Durga Puja, the massively scaled autumnal spectacle that over many years has singled out the city in ways more than one. Marking the homecoming of Goddess Durga and her cohort of deities (Kartik, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati) and the vanquishing of the demon Mahisasura, this festival is so much more than a mere religious exercise. It is certainly the celebration of the virtues of strength and moral victory but what sets Durga Puja, or Pujo, (as it is referred to colloquially) apart, is the sheer scale of the festival. It has managed to capture the imaginations of people from varying walks of life, bringing them together to immerse in the carnivalesque spirit of the festival that envelopes ritual and cultural transactions of all kinds in a fair like saga.
During this five day long festival, Kolkata exudes an opulence like none other — the landscape of the city is adorned with beautiful strings of light, decorative panels and the most elaborate of pandals (that are now heavily invested in themes and composition), making it a large scale celebration of the city's penchant for art, a display that is extravagance par excellence.
One of the many areas/zones, within the city, that has managed to keep up the spirit of the festival whilst maintaining a uniqueness of its own is Salt Lake/Bidhannagar. Salt Lake is divided into several blocks that host their own Pujos, based on the availability of resources and other logistical necessities. What is most heartwarming, however, about these Pujo celebrations are how homely and personal they feel, despite being public presentations in themselves. These pujos manage to secure the spirit of the community, big or small, by involving block members in ritual executions, organising meals for each of the four main days of the festival, making it a personalised endeavour. Here is a look at some of the famous block Pujos of Salt Lake:
FD Block Durga Puja happens to be the most awaited one of the area. Located in the heart of Salt Lake, FD witnesses a staggering footfall of roughly three to four lakhs per day. As decided by the Pujo committee to inaugurate on September 22, the footfall is expected to increase this year.
Since 2010, this block has presented a variety of theme based pujos; the theme for this year is: "Sur Taal Chondhe Sodha Matir Gondhe, which intends to bring to life a fragment of the indigenous originary ways of celebrating Durga Puja in Bengal," says Sandip Agarwal, secretary of the Pujo committee.
Famous artist Amar Sarkar is the mastermind behind the idol (protima) in the making, which will be presented before us in all due time. Well, it is only a matter of days before we get to be a part of the grand celebration, which also boasts of a large scale fair lined with food stalls, shops and rides.
AJ Block Durga Pujo
AJ Block's Durga Pujo has gained popularity in no time. Although it is relatively young, nearly 50,000-60,000 people flock to this block to witness the grandeur of Idol worship. With an aim to hold on to the traditions of Durga Pujo, the theme for this year's pujo is: 'Bonedi Bari', which will present before us the Zamindari house consisting of a thakur dalan where the Durga protima is placed and worshipped. "The portrayal of the golden past will be something worth witnessing," says Samir Das, president of the Puja committee while adding that one of the striking aspects will be the bhog offered to Ma Durga.
Along with the pandal which will be inaugurated on September 24, a block-wide mela is being set up.
AK Block Durga Puja
The smallest block in Salt Lake, AK Block Association isn't far behind when it comes to celebrating Durga Puja. The block consistently manages to garner acclaim and has bagged the Biswa
Bangla award two years in a row. Their theme for this year 'Ma er momota e ami shei meye', conveys a deeper message to all the people in this world. "It intends to portray the importance that daughters hold in our society and it would be a failed society if we don't protect our girls. With age and maturity, she reminds the society of her importance," says Nirmallo Tripathi, treasurer of the Pujo committee. "Apart from depicting real life stories, we are also unique in our approach towards society, for example, we organise social work like cloth distribution, feeding the needy among other societal functions," he adds.
By focusing on women empowerment, it goes beyond the self and outer importance of the beauty and celebrating woman as a whole. This Puja is thronged by countless numbers of people from various parts of the city, with an average of 90,000 to 1 lakh visiting the block daily.
The Puja at Laboni is an all-inclusive event in itself with an estimated footfall of about a lakh per day. Laboni organises one of the most famous Pujas in the city. The theme for this year is Drishti Shakti, which translates to the power of vision and invokes the power of the third eye of the Goddess that is said to be a massive source of strength/Shakti. The idea is to evoke the importance of the channelising one's vigour towards driving off the evil and ridding oneself of all bad energies this festival season. More importantly, it is a reminder of the virtues of feminine power in an age of rampant exploitation and disregard.
The organisers have gone all out this year to live up to their theme with their plans to set up an eye donation camp to spread awareness about organ donation. The biggest attraction at Laboni, however, are the generations of dhakis who have been performing at this puja for over 40 years, making it an unforgettable experience for those who visit it.
"Laboni witnesses an influx of NRI's as well, who return with the intention of taking a piece of Pujo back with them. With food stalls, music and a spacious setup, the Laboni Pujo is probably the best places to indulge in some good old adda sessions with or family members," says Sumit Sarkar, secretary of the Puja committee. It is slated to be inaugurated on September 24.
The Satellite city, popularly known as New Town, has an aura of its own. Lying on the extreme north eastern boundary of Kolkata, an extended part of Salt Lake, New Town is only a few kilometres away from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. For someone who's looking forward to enjoying Puja away from the cacophony of deafening vehicles, this is an ideal destination.
Hundreds of residential complexes in and around New Town host Durga Puja in their own unique way.
People who live outside Kolkata or abroad come back to their homes and participate in this auspicious ceremony. However, the puja organised by 'Balaka Abasan' stands out amongst so many. Every year, Balaka comes up with a unique nature-based theme.
For this year, it is: 'Brikher Bandhan'e Praner Spandan' which depicts how deforestation not only affects human beings but also the flora and fauna of an entire habitat. Uttam Mandal, the mastermind behind the idea says "the entire pandal portrays how lifespan of animals and roots are attacked when a tree is cut down for consumeristic purposes."
Prasanna Kumar Roy, secretary of the Pujo committee said: "We always come up with a theme raising awareness about nature and go for naturally made stuff to make our pandal." The most distinctive feature is that they will present before us a set of women dhakis during the Puja. Apart from a big arrangement of food stalls and exhibition, one should also check how the place is decked up with dreamy lights. Celebrating Puja since 15 years, Balaka Abasan witnesses a footfall of more than a lakh per day. The pujo dated to be unveiled on September 24 is inaugurated by Debashis Sen, managing director and chairman of HIDCO.
HIDCO has planned to set up dhakis at several landmarks in and around New Town like Mangaldeep, New Town bus stand, Eco Park and Kolkata Gate, in a gesture to welcome the people visiting the town. Cafe Ekante, a cafe inside Eco Park, will have special menu starting from Saptami until Dashami.
Hence, Durga pujo in Bengal, with a splash of colours, perfectly blended in streets, décor, ornaments and clothing, is one of a kind. It is all about the untiring light trails, the gooseflesh to the beats of dhaak and dhunuchi, the blessings, the love and the magic.
Durga pujo is a Bengali's best vacay within his home. However, with a zeal of sharing happiness, he welcomes with open arms whoever wants to be a part of it.