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CARNIVAL OF JOY

The Durga Puja carnival on Kolkata’s Red Road is a spectacle – alongside gorgeous idols and captivating performances, there is an equal emphasis on propagating essential values of social harmony.

CARNIVAL OF JOY

West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government ushered in a grand end to Durga Puja – the biggest festival of Bengalis – by organising a stunning Red Road carnival where as many as 70 of the city's best-known Durga idols paraded for the third consecutive year on October 23.

The extravaganza, touted to be second only to the renowned Rio Carnival, was attended by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was seated inside the replica of a thakur dalan flanked by Tollywood actors Prosenjit, Ranjit Mullick, Rituparna Sengupta, to name a few, and her cabinet ministers Partha Chatterjee, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Shashi Panja, Moloy Ghatak, among others. Senior officials of the state government along with foreign diplomats and consul generals of a number of countries were also present on the podium with the Chief Minister.

Puja committees who have bagged the Biswa Bangla Sharad Samman awards across different categories showcased their innovative themes with well-thought tableaux, including a miniature pandal where the idol had been hosted. They together marched on for immersion amidst reverberating beats of the dhaak.

The Pujo Carnival is one of its kind and has already shaped itself into a global phenomenon, attracting tourists from across the world. The carnival, for the first time this year, was aired on National Geographic Channel, providing a unique opportunity to viewers to witness this grand event from across the globe. It also went global with a direct telecast through the Chief Minister's Facebook page.

The state tourism department, apart from consul generals and foreign embassies, extended carnival invitations to as many as 2,000 foreign delegates. The department officials had approached a number of hotels from three-star to seven-star categories and educational institutions including private ones to woo foreign visitors; and, naturally, the separate gallery for the foreigners was cramped for space.

"It's an all encompassing carnival on Red Road #Kolkata: Durga idols, showers of confetti, music, dance and my new

@USAndKolkata colleague Patti Hoffmann!" tweeted Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata, while witnessing the carnival. He also posted a number of pictures on his twitter handle.

The rally began with Sree Bhumi Sporting Club, a major crowd puller in the city's eastern fringes, which won the award of 'Serar Sera' (Best of the Best). The puja, themed on the grand yet controversial film Padmaavat, showcased a stunning replica of the Chittorgarh Fort, where Rana Ratan Singh lived with his wife Padmavati but was ultimately defeated by the Turkish ruler, Alauddin Khilji. Decked in Rajasthani attire, 100 women relived the times of the Rajput queen with a traditional ghoomar dance.

The performance of Suruchi Sangha deserves special mention with 26 women disciples from ISKCON, clad in white and red sarees, based from all parts of the globe, dancing to the theme song – Jayo Maa Jayo Durga – penned by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The Barangar Netaji Colony with its theme as 'Kolkata in London' – a dream cherished by the Chief Minister – showcased a performance by Dona Ganguly's Diksha Manjari.

Netajinagar Lowland Sarbojonin highlighted the massively appreciated Kanyashree and Sabooj Sathi projects of the state government, which were launched to improve the status of girls and students across the state.

The winner of 'Sera Mandap' – Md Ali Park – had also depicted Chittorgarh Fort and they too hosted a Rajasthani dance performance of women from that state. Salt Lake's FD Block Puja committee, in its tableau, showcased a mini replica of its Jurassic Park-inspired dinosaur park theme.

The venue served the best possible combination of a mix of theme and traditional idols. Common viewers and foreign delegates present were mesmerised by the idols of Ekdalia Evergreen, College Square, Shimla Byayam Samity – to name a few – that have been hosting traditional pujas for decades.

A number of puja organisers utilised the Red Road platform to spread important social messages by adopting different art forms. Amidst the massive Durga idols on tableaux, members of all age groups including children presented a themed dance performance. Most performances were propagating messages on communal harmony. It may be mentioned that the Chief Minister too has repeatedly emphasised that communal peace and harmony is a tradition of Bengal. Performances of folk artistes, bauls and drummers left the audience spell-bound. Giant screens provided a clear picture of the idols, even to those seated far away.

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation in association with the state tourism department decked up Red Road and its adjoining stretches with decorative lights. The entire route from Esplanade to Fort William, along with Red Road, Hospital Road, Cassurina Lane and Kidderpore Road were beautifully lit up. "It was similar to the style of Chandannagar in Hooghly, where such a parade is held after Jagadhatri Puja every year," a senior official of KMC's lighting department said.

In fact, the Chief Minister's idea of organising such a grand parade at Red Road has been inspired from Chandannagar, where people from all parts of the state assemble to catch a glimpse of the parade. When Mamata Banerjee had announced the carnival in 2016, some economists, both in the country and abroad, had criticised the decoration and artworks in the pandals because of their "limited shelf life" and termed the money involved in Durga Puja as "sheer wastage".

The state government's answer came in the form of Sangraha, a unique museum at Eco Park that would display the artefacts and handicrafts used by various clubs during Durga Puja. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated the museum during her visit to Prakriti Tirtha in February 2017. It was Banerjee who first realised that if this artwork could be preserved and displayed, then many people, both from the country and abroad, could witness and appreciate the grandeur of Durga Puja.

Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) has refurbished their art gallery beside Rabindra Sarobar, which will preserve as many as 10 idols that have attracted pandal-hoppers during Durga Puja this year.

"It will not only provide an opportunity to those who could not make it to the pandals but also attract many art lovers as they will be able to witness the different crafts throughout the year," a senior KMDA official said. The outside of the main hall within the boundary walls of the gallery that has space for accommodating three idols has already been occupied. The idols of Bhowanipore 75 Palli and Dum Dum Park have already made their way to their second address, while last year's idol of Chetla Agrani has also been placed.

Seven other idols will be placed on separate concrete structures inside the main hall. The gallery will be accessible to the public soon after Kali Puja. The infrastructure for preserving the pandals and idols at a gallery in Rabindra Sarobar was initiated in the year 2012. However, due to a lack of maintenance, the gallery did not live up to its expectations.

Way back in 1985 a leading paints' company announced that it would award the best decorative Durga Pujas in the city and the process of shifting from traditional (Sabeki) to themes began. As years went by, the organisers gradually transformed their pujas to a grand affair with diverse themes. In 2016, Banerjee's initiative to organise the carnival upped the pomp and grandeur associated with the Puja by a notch.

"This Puja Carnival is the first step towards our goal of Biswa Bangla. We are growing bigger and bigger with each passing year," an official of the State Information and Cultural Affairs Department firmly asserted.

SOUMITRA NANDI

SOUMITRA NANDI

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