Durga Puja 2018: Kolkata's Charismatic Carnival
From depicting the pain of child labour to touching upon the crisis of isolation in our modern world and further on to designing a grand structure on the lines of Padmaavat – Durga Puja 2018 is set to be a thrill for the many enthusiasts who anxiously wait for October to arrive, discusses Shayani Mukherjee
The most publicised and extravagant event in the city's calendar is here. Yes, Bengal's Durga Puja is due in less than a week's time. Marking the homecoming of Goddess Durga with 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. With panoramic celebration, it transcends the barriers of class, creed and religion. Over the years, Durga Puja has transformed into a mega-consumerist carnival and a large-scale communitarian event, defining the modern contours of a so-called urban festival.
As the city evolved, so did the style of Pujas. With around 28,000 Pujas – big and small – being conducted across the state, each Puja committee has entered a league of competitions, striving to come up with the most spectacular pandals, pratimas, lighting and decorations. The trend of hosting new style 'Themed Pujas' is on the rise, where best Puja committees are awarded for their artistry, execution and conception, with a ticket to the season's hall of fame.
With only a few days left, Puja committees are gearing up to add the final touches of glory to their pratimas and pandals – a result of massive investments in time, labour and funds. To present the touring crowds with diverse styles and practices, each pandal has endeavoured to add a unique hue of distinctive attraction.
Let us now take a look at some of the best-themed Pujas in and around the town:
Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha
Located in the heart of Dum Dum Park, Tarun Sangha records a footfall of nearly two to three lakh per day. The theme this year targets a major and often neglected social issue – child labour. The makers have imagined the theme, 'Shishu Shomer Biruddhhe', depicting the eternal struggle of a child, represented by the male deity Ganesha, who is forced to forgo his childhood to work. The artist, Anirban Das, has used 29,000 tea-cups, four lakh self-made tea bags and other material from tea stalls to do justice to the theme. Debraj Sikdar, General Secretary of the club, said: "The Goddess, designed by Surojit Pal, will be clad in black and white to represent her grief and detestation towards the harsh realities of child labour." The pandal will be inaugurated on October 12 by street children.
Considered to be one of best South Kolkata Pujas, Tridhara witnesses a staggering footfall of four to five lakh per day. In its 72nd year, the iconic Tridhara Sammilani, known for its innovative themes and brilliant execution, has decided to revive the lost artisanal traditions of Bengal through the theme 'Prakriti Ratan e Shajabo Joton e'. The motive this year is to acquaint the newer generations with the clay and jute artists of the state, whose prowess remains unacknowledged in this mechanised world. The makers, in taking a commendable step towards the ongoing dialogue on equality, have an all-inclusive sindur khela session on the day of Dashami that witnesses participation of women from all rungs of society. Gouranga Kuila is the mastermind behind this year's theme and idol. The pandal is slated to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tentatively on Prathama or Dwitiya.
Telenga Bagan Sarbojanin Durgotsab
A most prominent Puja of North Kolkata, around three to four lakh people flock to Telenga Bagan in a day to witness its grandeur. As themes with social messages seem to be on the rise this year, and rightly so, Telenga Bagan, in its 53rd year has settled on a theme titled 'Alor Patha Jatri'. The theme seeks to represent the questionable status of freedom in today's conflicted times. In paying a much-needed tribute to our freedom fighters, the organisers hope to inspire the fight against social adversities. Siddhartha Ghosh and Partha Ghosh, the artists and key conceptualisers of the Puja, in commenting on the relevance of the theme, said: "Even after 72 years of Independence, violence still prevails and justice is denied." The Goddess, a representation of power and righteousness, will be hailed to facilitate this fight. The pandal is slated to be inaugurated on October 12.
Sreebhumi Sporting Club
After the success of last year's Bahubali theme, Sreebhumi Sporting Club is all set to present the set of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Padmaavat' – the most talked about movie of 2018. Renowned for executing breathtaking theme-based and big-budget pandals, the Puja committee is recreating the Chittorgarh Fort with its ambience, where models will be decked in costumes used by different characters in the film. President of the club and Trinamool Congress MLA, Sujit Bose, said: "The club has chosen this theme because the film had a massive commercial appeal and the pandal is expected to garner large crowds." He also stated that the movie was allowed to be screened in theatres across Kolkata despite a ban in many parts of the country, this is representative of the Chief Minister and the state's liberal attitude towards cinematic arts and culture.
Famous Babu Lal, from Chandernagore, has illuminated this magnificent pandal, the idol has been designed by Pradip Rudra Pal and the pandal by Romeo Hazra. Apart from them, 300 workers have been working on the pandal for over three months. Additionally, while each year, Sreebhumi decks Goddess Durga in gold, this year they have decided to adorn all deities with ornaments of gold.
On the auspicious day of Ashtami, the Puja organisers have decided to feed 10,000 residents and distribute 10,000 garmemts.
Nalin Sarkar Street Durgotsab
Located in the heart of Hati Bagan near Shyam Bazar, Nalin Sarkar Street is considered to be one of the oldest Pujas of North Kolkata. Celebrated for its unique themes, Nalin Sarkar Street, in its 86th year, has decided to depict the discontent of technological advancement and over-indulgence that has led to man becoming distant from the material world he resides in. Represented through the paintings of Salvador Dali, consisting of dream imagery and everyday objects in unexpected forms, the theme`, hopes to address this mechanised detachment, the rapid decline of sanity and generate an awareness regarding the adverse impact technology has on our minds and souls. The artist behind this brilliant concept, Abhijit Ghatak, has worked to portray the victims of unhappy consciousness living in a surreal world and a probable gateway to escape. The pandal, which is thronged by two to three lakh people every day, will be open from Chaturthi.
Located in the heart of Sova Bazaar, Kumartuli Park is one of the most celebrated Pujas across Kolkata. Slated to be inaugurated on Tritiya (October 12), the recorded footfall of two-three lakh per day is expected to go up this year. The theme for this year is 'Shopner Rakhal'. The mastermind behind the theme, artist Prashanta Pal, has imagined a tranquil world, devoid of conflict and instability – a world where freedom and empathy prevail. Here, the rakhal or the cowherd is Lord Krishna who will summon Goddess Durga to eliminate social maladies and foster a world where prosperity is restored. Subir Chatterjee, the General Secretary of the Puja committee, said: "The main attraction of the Puja apart from the pandal is the mela that runs for 24 hours during all days of the festival."
Chetla Agrani Club
Chetla Agrani Club, in its 26th year, is attempting to represent the emptiness experienced after loss through its theme 'Bisharjan'. Artist Anirban Das seeks to depict immersion of various kinds after which man becomes one with nature only to achieve eternal joy (probable resurrection). A palatial building will be erected for people to understand the futility of existence, along with a pond in front of the idol where visitors will see the Goddess's reflection. The pond would serve as a symbol where people can shed their sins. It would be immersing the old self, letting go of one's ego and emerging as a new being in front of God. "The Puja witnesses a staggering footfall of four to five lakh per day and the committee welcomes everyone for Bhog on Ashtami afternoon," says Subendhu Samantha, Treasurer of the club. The pandal will be inaugurated on Tritriya (October 12) by state Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim, who also happens to be the President of the Club. The Chief Minister will also be present to perform the traditional Chokkhu Daan – giving light to the Goddess's eye – on the day of the inauguration.
Naktala Udayan Sangha
The theme for this year's Puja is 'Kaal' meaning time. Awarding winning artist Sushanta Pal has conceptualised the theme to depict the ephemeral nature of time, which waits for no one and can only be experienced through the constant changes in nature and the world around us. The pandal was inaugurated by the Chief Minister on the auspicious day of Mahalaya and is expected to witness a staggering footfall of 10 lakh persons per day. State Education minister, Partha Chatterjee, also the President of the club, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that audiences witness a visual spectacle this year at Naktala Udayan Sangha. The brand ambassador for this year's Puja is actor Rituparna Sengupta. General Secretary, Bappaditya Dasgupta, notified that around 5,000 street children will be given clothes on the day of Mahalaya following an age-old practice. In its 32nd year, the committee has decided to carry on with their tradition of installing a pavilion and paying a tribute to a famous personality, this year the personality will be the legendary Uttam Kumar.
Inspired by a Chinese cultural tradition, the theme for BJ Block this year is 'Aamader Mrinmoyee Ebare Chinmoyee'. The tribe 'Wa', an ancient community of China that has no documented history, is the primary source of inspiration for this year's pandal. The artists, Panna Let and Sourav Chakroborty, have taken the liberty to imagine the world of Ma Durga as originating from the Hulu fruit akin to the inception of the Wa tribe. "The primary aim is to establish cultural uniqueness and also depict the transition from a primitive lifestyle to a civilised world," says Subhankar Basu, Secretary of the Puja committee. One of the more famous blocks in Salt Lake, BJ witnesses a footfall of roughly one to two lakh per day.
FD Block, known for its exciting themes, has zeroed in on yet another fun theme this year – 'Dinosaur Park'. The pandal is meant represent the lost world of dinosaurs and will provide an ambience that is amiable for children. For this fantasy world, 26 fibreglass dinosaurs will be installed. The Puja with a fair that has food stalls, shops, rides and other recreational facilities accessible to the public on all days of the festival, witnesses a footfall of two to three lakh per day. The prime conceptualiser of the Puja this year is the block association itself.
The theme for Deshapriya Park Durgostab, known for its larger than life pandal executions, is 'Rajnandinir Rajmahal'. Artist Sayak Raj has curated the theme to represent four heritage sites from Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi. The Secretary of the committee, Sudipto Kumar, maintained: "These sites will be re-constructed using fibre, sandstone, thread and mud work." Despite using modern material and techniques for the pandal, the idol will remain traditional." The arena surrounding the pandal will also have rides and other recreational facilities. One of the celebrated Pujas of South Kolkata, it is slated to be inaugurated on Tritiya, welcoming around eight lakh people from across various states daily.
The city stage is set! Believe it or not — the trail of lights leading to the breathtaking sight of idols and the endless queues of people munching on puffed rice, phuchkas and egg rolls, is not just a hysterical spree, but a state of mind that overpowers all definitions of reason and time. You may say, it is only a wholesome sense of belonging to a celebration that stirs the city sleepless for seven days!