Covid curbs theme dazzle
This year, there won’t be many grand pandals or striking themes, stretches will be less lit-up and footfall will be restricted, unlike the usual big-ticket Durga Pujas in and around Kolkata. But the festival will have the same charm and attraction for Bengalis who wait for their most important Carnival throughout the year, writes Tarun Goswami
The pandemic has had an adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people across the globe. A similar effect could be seen on Bengal's Durga Puja as well.
With the charm of theme Pujas being hit badly this year due to Coronavirus, budgets have shrunk by 30-40 percent and so have the sizes of the deity. The flamboyance is missing and the spectacle has surely taken a beating. Despite this, some big Puja committees have stuck to the concept of theme Pujas and are raring to go amid the Covid-imposed restrictions.
Bapai Sen, art director of two well-known Pujas in South Kolkata — 21-Pally and Jodhpur Park — says: "It is a challenge for us to carry out the theme within limited means. However, we are trying our best to ensure that our work is appreciated by those who will visit the pandals."
The theme at 21-Palli, this year, is Karma Chakra. From birth to death, people are involved in various activities. While some stick to old jobs, others change vocation and there is not a single moment when they sit idle without doing anything. The theme 'Karma Chakra' or the 'cycle of work' has been brought to life by the Bohurupee. They are co-players who portray hundreds of roles — from mythological characters to important individuals, both historical and contemporary.
In Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Srikanta, we get the reference of Srinath Bahurupi who dressed up as a tiger and tried to scare people. "During the lockdown, the Bohurupee artistes faced an acute financial crisis. We are trying to give them financial support to enable them to once again pursue their age-old vocation," he said.
In Jodhpur Park, 'Amar Jela' is the theme this year. The various folk cultures of the 23 districts of Bengal will be displayed. The Pattachitras of East and West Midnapore have attracted people globally. Many Pattachitra artists from Naya Pingla in West Midnapore have gone to Europe and the USA to take part in global fairs. The wooden dolls of East Burdwan and clay dolls of Krishnanagar have also been acclaimed globally. The masks used in Chow Dance in Purulia and the puppet shows of Kultuli in South 24-Parganas will be displayed. "The theme will allow people to know their state better," he remarked.
Sajal Ghosh of Nebutala Sarbojonin, one of the biggest crowd-pullers in Central Kolkata, said: "Our pandal will look like the temples of Kedarnath and Badrinath. But we are not calling it a theme."
Bakulbagan Sarbojonin, which had introduced the concept of theme Puja, has taken the traditional route this year. "Great artists like Shanu Lahiri, Isha Mohammad had designed our Durga idols in the past. In 2011, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had made the design. But we have curtailed the budget this year and will present the traditional style."
Gol Math and Abasar, two community Pujas in South Kolkata which have celebrated diamond jubilees, won't have any theme this year. "We will follow the traditional style and request the elderly not to come to the pandal for 'pushpanjali' due to the pandemic situation," said an organiser.
Bhabatosh Sutar is the art director at Suruchi Sangha. Aroop Biswas, the state PWD minister, distributed new clothes to about 10,000 children on October 10. The village women attached to Chander Haat group of Sutar have been engaged to decorate the pandal. Cotton sarees are being used this time.
The theme of Behala Notun Dal is Amal from the famous character of Rabindranath Tagore's Dak Ghar.
Biswanath Dey is the art director while Amal Pal and Sons are involved in making the idol. Pal died prematurely some months ago and his team is now engaged in making the image. Dey said: "It is a new concept and I hope people will appreciate it."
The theme of Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra is 'Dukho Jaganiya' and through models, it will be shown how people have waged a war against COVID-19. Anirban Das is the art director.
Govinda Giri is the theme maker at Bosepukur Sitalatala while Niranjan Karmakar is the idol maker.
Pradipta Karmakar, a promising art director has made the theme 'Biswas Bishhoy 2020' of Kidderpore 25-Palli. He said: "It is faith that is helping people to tide over the pandemic and this is our theme. Through this, we are trying to tell people that not everything is lost and life will come back to its usual rhythm soon."
Sreebhumi, Minister of State for Fire and Emergency Services Sujit Bose's famous Puja is building a replica of the Kedarnath Temple. Lights from Chandannagar will be used to give special effects.
The organisers said since three sides of the pandal will have to be kept open due to the COVID-19 protocol, it is difficult to enrich it with pompous creativity.
"We have never come across such a big crisis. Still, our art director and idol maker have tried to make the pandal and the artwork as attractive as possible. This year, there will be no Carnival and so we will not be able to showcase our artwork to a large number of people," said Sujit Bose.
The organisers also feel that with local trains not plying, there won't be many people thronging the pandals from the districts like previous years. They also apprehend that the Supreme Court might give orders to restrict the crowd number at the last minute.