Durga puja begins with bang

Around 3,000 community pujas are being organised in The City of Joy, plunging Bengal into festivities, merriment and religiosity

From the cross-border airstrike in Pakistan's Balakot to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), myriad themes mark the community puja marquees as festive fervour grips the eastern metropolis with the biggest socio-cultural carnival of Bengalis – the annual religious observance of Durga Puja – beginning on October 4, notwithstanding the threat of rains playing spoilsport.

Close to 3,000 community pujas – big, medium and small – are being organised in Kolkata, with around 25,000 more in the districts, besides the time-honoured elite family celebrations, plunging Bengal into festivities, merriment and religiosity.

It is that time of the year in Bengal when even newspapers shut down and roads are choked with human traffic throughout the day and night.

The puja rituals, however, began on October 3 itself, with Panchami – the fifth day of the lunar calendar – the puja eve - making way for Shashthi (the sixth day of the lunar calendar) in the evening, as per the Hindu almanac.

Kalparamvo (the beginning of the puja), and Bodhan (the consecration of Durga's idol) were being performed by the priests, with the devout crowding around the idol in obeisance.

But with the new trend – started by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – of inaugurating the marquees even before the Mahalaya, the revellers have hit the streets from last Sunday itself - virtually extending the celebrations into a ten-day carnival.

As huge number of pandal-hoppers descend on the city from the suburbs, rest of India and from across the globe, the marquees that have sprung up left, right and centre, showcase remarkable creativity giving stiff competition to one another.

Current events which have had a deep impact on the politics and social life of the country, have found an echo in the festival, the biggest in this part of the world.

Central Kolkata's Young Boys Club Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee is celebrating its golden jubilee this year by simulating scenes from the Balakot air strike, in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) jets bombed and destroyed a terror training camp in Pakistan.

The organisers have positioned 65 models of Indian Air Force personnel and terrorists near the entrance as a model of an IAF aircraft hovered over. There was also a life-size model of of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who had shot down an F-16 fighter jet of the Pakistan Air Force before he was captured. But he was released later.

Against the backdrop of panic over a possible future NRC exercise gripping the state, the Rajdanga Naba Uday Sangha puja is drawing a huge crowd by envisioning its marquee around the theme of "refugee".

Shuttlecocks, standing for refugees, and badminton rackets – representing two countries – have been slotted in front of the marquee, to delineate the message of two countries lobbing the refugees to each other's side. While the political tone is hard to miss, the fact that the puja committee President Sushanta Ghosh is a Trinamool Congress leader and chairman of Kolkata Municipal Corporation's Borough number 13 makes the intent more obvious.

In fact, politics has been part and parcel of the Durga puja celebrations this year, with a resurgent BJP trying to challenge the state's ruling Trinamool's decade-long monopoly over the celebrations.

Though Chief Minister Banerjee herself is inaugurating around 100 community puja mqrquees, the BJP leaders also claim to have received invitations from 400-500 puja organisers to unveil the idols.

A person of the stature of Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself opened the Durga puja celebrations in BJ block, Salt Lake, and delivered an overtly political speech, exhorting people to bring BJP to power in the next elections to enjoy all Hindu festivals without any hassles. Moving away from the political slugfest, the famed Tridhara Sammilani of South Kolkata has chosen to drive home some "green lessons" to the public by making its premises plastic free. The puja organsiers say they work with the Kolkata Municpal Corporation for waste management, and sdhere to all green norms.

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