Bengal's Carnival of Joy
From idols decked in gold to pandals reminding visitors of their duty towards Mother Nature – Team MP guides you through Durga Puja 2019 that is set to titillate your senses while pricking your conscience
The festive aura is floating in the air and Kolkatans cannot wait any longer for the mega enchantment to commence. It's that time of the year again to bond over and celebrate Bengal's biggest festival – and the countdown to the mass revelry is well underway with neighbourhoods witnessing the erection of grand pandal structures as the interiors receive their final touches with absolute precision. Puja committees are working overtime to grab one of the coveted title awards and also draw a maximum footfall. For many years now, theme Pujas have been a major attraction not only for those who live in Kolkata but also for people who visit the city during Durga Puja. Here are a few must-visits for 2019:
Santosh Mitra Square
The Durga idol at Santosh Mitra Square is set to get the Midas touch this year with the Puja committee designing a 12-ft tall deity, embellished entirely in gold. General secretary of the committee, Sajal Ghosh, said that about 50 kg gold would be used to craft the idol and artisans from Delhi were working on the pandal interiors, which would have intricate mirror work inspired by Jaipur's Sheesh Mahal. Santosh Mitra Square, one of the high-budget Puja pandals in the city, started 84 years ago on the premises of a small school near Sealdah. Known for its exclusive themes, the innovative ideas of the pandal have awed visitors time and again. In 1998, landscapes of border areas were created with a display of warfare and artillery. In 2010, the iconic Writers' Building was replicated and in 2013, the Vatican City of Italy became the cynosure of all eyes in Kolkata. Since the past two years, the committee has been employing artisans involved in crafting gold and silver jewellery. In 2017, Goddess Durga wore a 22-kg gold saree created by Kolkata-based fashion designer Agnimitra Paul. In 2018, a 60-ft high and 40-ft wide chariot-shaped pandal was built using about 20 tonnes of silver. The committee is spending about Rs 18 crore for the Puja this year, making it one of the costliest to ever be organised in the city.
The transformation of Indian architecture, right from the days of the Mughal period to contemporary times, will come alive through the pandal and décor of Sreebhumi Sporting Club's Durga Puja this year. This Durga Puja in Lake Town has always been a prime attraction for pandal-hoppers as it churns out innovative concepts and elaborate themes through its pandal representations and ambience, while sticking to the traditional or sabeki idol every year. "Indian architecture reached its pinnacle during Mughal rule, but there has been a lot of transformation with the progress of time. Using our own thought process, we will depict this change in Indian art and architectural forms. There will be intricate works with fibre and ply inside and outside the pandal, which will surely be a major draw," said state Fire and Emergency Services minister Sujit Bose, who is the president of the club. Special lighting arrangements in tune with the decoration of the pandal will be prepared by famous light artistes from Chandannagore. The idol, being made by Pradip Rudra Paul, will be decked in sabeki-style ornaments. The marble floor of the pandal is also special.
"This is the first time that we are making a theme song. Singers like Gurjeet, Snigdhajit and Dipanwita have lent their voices to it and Goutam Das has composed it. The video version of the song will feature Bengali actor Nusrat and some other known faces from Tollywood," Bose added. The theme song and the video will be released on September 19 while the pandal will be inaugurated on September 29. The minister said there will be water counters, medical units and toilet blocks near the mandap with continuous CCTV surveillance to ensure safety and security of pandal-hoppers. "We will have dedicated counters from where prasad will be distributed after the Puja on all four days. Bhog will be prepared on Ashtami for 10,000 people," he said.
The Durga Puja of Chetla Agrani is recreating the nostalgic charm of old Kolkata through its theme 'Kolkata Choliache Norite Norite' which is based on a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore. Howrah Bridge, Kolkata GPO, Cathedral Church, Victoria Memorial, Kalighat temple, Tipu Sultan mosque, 'Boipara' in College Street will all come alive in the décor of this pandal. The lighting arrangements will be in tune with that of old Kolkata. Theme-maker Anirban said brick, cement plywood and fibre are being used to make the mandap. State Urban Development minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim is the president of Chetla Agrani Club.
Ekdalia Evergreen is known for its sabeki idol, dazzling chandeliers and elaborate light arrangements. Though most Puja organisers have happily adapted themselves to themes, Ekdalia stands as an exception. "The pandal of our Puja will be a replica of Jatoli Shiva Temple of Himachal's Solan. The Durga idol and those of Lakshmi and Saraswati will don original Benarasi sarees. The pandal will be 80 ft tall and there will be a huge chandelier with a 30/30 ft diameter. State Panchayats and Rural Development minister Subrata Mukherjee is the main man behind the Puja. Last year, the replica of Tamil Nadu's Brihadeshwara Temple drew huge crowds.
Behala Nutan Dal
Behala Nutan Dal, one of the premier Pujas in the heart of Behala, in South Kolkata, that is known for its resplendent, out-of-the-box themes will go back to traditional influences for 2019, their 54th year. Their theme of 'Mahalakkhir mahamaya – Rekhdeuler parampara' will draw inspiration from the temples and architecture of districts like Bankura and Purulia. Artist Rono Banerjee will bring the idols to life, with an 18-armed Durga idol being a standout.
Naktala Udayan Sangha
Popular for its unique themes, Naktala Udayan Sangha has always been a huge crowd-puller. This year, the theme is Janmo (birth).This Puja witnesses a footfall of more than six lakh per day. The pandal is being made with iron, tin sheds, straw and clay pots besides other construction material. The theme has been conceived by artist Bhabatosh Sutar.
Tridhara, a well-known club of south Kolkata, will be celebrating its 73rd anniversary this year. The club, situated at the crossing of Rashbehari Avenue, Monoharpukur Road and Mahanirban Road, follows three principles – tradition, culture and social activity. This year, the theme is Dristikone (perception), considered to be a most relevant tenet of Indian philosophy. Given the atmosphere of growing hatred and fear, this theme will profess a different mindset to visitors. The idea has been conceived by Gauranga Kuila. A variety of eco-friendly materials including age-old bamboos are being used to build the structure, apart from the heavy use of glass to lend a 3D effect. Cultural shows on all four days of the Puja will be organised along with a community lunch.
Located at the heart of the city, Maddox Square is one of the most popular Durga Pujas in South Kolkata. The idol is traditional and the pandal is decorated with gleaming chandeliers. But the star attraction is the long uninterrupted adda sessions that draws people from across age groups to this venue for their share of camaraderie. Around 20 food stalls will be set up this year and chairs will also be provided for friendly gatherings. There are people who come to the Puja every year just for those sessions, making for a lively reunion spot.
Samaj Sebi Sangha
Samaj Sebi Sangha, the 74-year-old Puja in South Kolkata, has set kurnish (paying respect) as its theme for this year. Ideated by Pradip Das, the theme tries to recognise the efforts of nameless, faceless workers and salutes their contribution towards society. This year, the club has reached out to the Autism Society of West Bengal to give individuals with special needs a grand experience of the Puja celebrations.
FD Block Sarbojonin Durgotsav Committee has set up their Puja pandal styled as rural villages of European countries. This year, the theme is 'Elem Notun Deshe'. The decoration has been based on the popular novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. While entering the pandal, people can see the miniature statues of lilliputs while a giant statue of Gulliver will be don the inside of the pandal. Saumitra Mukherjee, secretary of the Puja committee, said: "We do not want people to think hard. Our aim is to offer simple entertainment. Also, there will be elaborate work of light and sound inside the pandal."
The theme for Labony is 'Taranger Uchhas'. According to the Puja committee, the theme is based on rainwater harvesting. Inside the pandal, visitors can witness huge sea waves and methods of rainwater harvesting, and the entire structure has been made using bamboo.
Balaka Abasan, New Town
New Town's Balaka Abasan is celebrating its 13th year and the theme is water pollution and the impending crisis. The pandal would be the shape and format of a ship and the deity will be mounted on a dolphin. The whole decoration is made out of plywood and plaster of paris. "Our aim is to show people how the water is being polluted and thereby, pushing us towards a severe water crisis," said Rakesh Gupta, media secretary.
Durga Puja in the Hills is equally popular. The oldest Puja in Darjeeling is organised by the Nripendra Narayan Bengali Hindu Hall (NNBHH) and this year, it will hit the 105-year mark.
In 1914, Durga Puja was first organised in the temple of the hall by the local Bengali populace. Great names like Swami Vivekananda, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan, Sister Nivedita, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Acharya J C Bose and even Bagha-Jatin had all paid visits to this hall. It is said that even K L Saigal, the legendary singer, had once offered pushpanjali here. Tradition is the essence of this Puja which has been preserved religiously through the ages. No pandal is erected for the Puja and the idol is placed in the main altar of the temple belonging to NNBHH.