Millennium Post
Opinion

Durga puja shines in Olympic glory

Amitabh Bachchan will run with the Olympic flame again, Mary Kom box, Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar shoot and Sushil Kumar wrestle to win silver and bronze Olympic medals, all at a puja pandal near you. The light artistes of Chandernagore have picked up on India’s medal haul at the summer Olympics to illuminate the Durga puja celebrations in Kolkata this year.

While comic strips, figures of birds and animals or fiction and telling a tale through lights is common when it comes to Chandernagore light works, it is equally expected for the artistes to focus on a subject that’s been in news both at the national and international level. In 2009, it was Mamata Banerjee taking oath as railways minister that adorned many
pandals
. In 2010, Paul the prophetic octopus of the football world cup and the poet Raindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary were the hot favourites. This year it is the Olympics. ‘In the past, we would also show subjects like the tsunami or a major railway accident in lights, but many of the visitors didn’t like a tragedy to be portrayed during a happy occasion like Durga puja. So now we focus only on themes that can be celerated,’ explains an artiste in Chandernagore. And India’s medal haul at the 2012 Olympics fits the bill perfectly.

Work starts much in advance. Most often it is the artist who decides what will capture public sentiments for a particular year and start work on it, before
puja
organisers come to take their pick. Asim Dey of Chandernagore is one of those working on the Olympics theme. He has created an entire panel revolving around the subject. ‘The first image will be of superstar Amitah Bachchan running with the Olympic torch. This will be followed by images of the Olympic mascots. After which I have captured the winning moments in the categories in which India has won medals,’ says Dey. Kashinath Das, another light artiste of Chandernagore has also taken the Olympics route.

While Dey’s work will grace the big ticket College Square puja in Kolkata, Das’s work can be seen in
pandals
in Jadavpur and Laketown. Along with the Olympics theme, Dey has also made a presentation of the recent mars mission. ‘I have made a 7ft rocket from sheets of iron, that will be seen going up a 40 ft pole. The landing will be shown through illuminated graphics,’ explains Dey. Das on the other hand, has gone with sports all the way, choosing Indian Premier League as one of his other themes.

But not everyone wants to work with current affairs. Babu Paul, who representation of Paul the octopus had graced not just puja pandals in Kolkata, but travelled to festivals in many states, has steered clear of newsy subjects this year. ‘These days we work with LED lights. So you can’t dismantle on work and use it in another graphic. We could do it when we worked with
tuni
[Chandernagore lamps]. The craze for current affair subjects is short lived.

‘I’d rather create something generic that I can send to other festivals through the year. It is more economically viable,’ explains Paul, who has concentrated on the animal kingdom this puja.

The coming of the LED has been a mixed boon. While for the organisers it has cut down electricity consumption and thus given artistes the chance to keep their prices competitive, it has led to the decline of the indigenous artwork of Chandernagore lamps for which the place was famous and the local industry that manufactured those lamps.

Another change that the artistes are having to contend with is the rise of ‘theme pujas’ in Kolkata. Conceptualised by the ‘theme artiste’ [often an art school graduate] these pandals demand that the décor, light and even the idol should match the themes. While some of the light artistes of Chandernagore have started working with these puja artistes, for many it means less independence.

Also, it means organisers look upon light as part of the package and less likely to spend on the giagantic lightworks made from tiny colourful lamps that used to be the draw of puja pandals once. The Chandenagore artistes therefore have started pushing beyond the confines of Kolkata for clients.

While puja budgets might still be the best in Kolkata, they have started working in Jharkhand, Assam, Orissa, Mumbai and Delhi, not just for puja, but for Diwali and other festivals as well. Dey did the lights for the Janmashtami celebrations in Delhi’s Iskcon temple. Babu Paul’s works will grace puja pandals in Mumbai and Kashinath Dey was present in Karol Bagh recently. Bengal will not monopolise the talent of these home-grown light artistes anymore.

Poulomi Banerjee is assistant editor at Millennium Post.
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