In Retrospect

Red Road carnival: Redefining Durga Puja

The massive carnival rally to bid farewell to Goddess Durga, which was started last year, is touted to be second only to the Rio Carnival. Soumitra Nandi writes on this extravagant road show, down the Red Road, that is gradually becoming the integral conclusion to Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata.

The Mamata Banerjee government ushered in a grand end to the week-long festivities of Durga Puja, the biggest festival for the Bengalis, by organising a stunning carnival on the historic Red Road, where as many as 68 of the city's most acclaimed Durga idols along with Durga's entourage, paraded for the second consecutive year, this October 3.

The extravaganza, touted only second to the famous Rio Carnival, was organised by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and witnessed by around 25,000 people, including several of her ministers.
The make-shift galleries, giant screens and separate enclosures for foreign guests added a new dimension and perspective to this year's celebrations. Performances by folk artistes, bauls and percussionists, captivated the audience, who were awe-struck by the glamour of the festivities. The giant screens flashed clear pictures of the idols, specifically made to cater to the enthusiasts seated far away. Last year, there were around 39 idols that paraded the stretch with arrangements for around 10,000 people. This year, a good number of guests from different parts of the world who had arrived at the City of Joy to celebrate Durga Puja as well as witness the under-17 Fifa World Cup, were also provided with the opportunity to witness this grand carnival.
The State tourism department's proposal to create separate enclosures for foreign guests, along with providing the best logistics to complement the Chief Minister's plans of showcasing this festival to the international community, received great appreciation. The Puja organisers too, left no stone unturned to promote the forthcoming FIFA Under-17 Football World Cup, adding new flavours during the carnival. Interestingly, Kolkata is gearing up to host 10 matches of the international tournament, including the final.
Kalighat Milan Sangha's procession had veteran footballers from the state marching ahead with India's flag, along with a few current players displaying their skills while juggling footballs. Similarly, College Square Sarbojonin Durgotsav Committee promoted the event by installing a huge revolving football with the World Cup logo painted on it, atop the tableau.
Durga Puja organisers, including Chakraberia Sarbojonin Durgotsav, Netaji Jatio Seba Dal and Bhowanipore 75 Palli, prepared separate tableaus with the logo of the Under-17 World Cup along with flags of the countries participating in the tournament.
Hatibagan Sarbojanin puja committee went a notch higher by setting up a goal post on a tableau to mark the forthcoming international event for which the state government has taken all the necessary measures hoping to improve Swami Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan to match up to international standards. The tableaus based on the Under-17 World Cup theme included those of Suruchi Sangha, Naktala Udayan Sangha and Chetla Agrani.
A song composed by Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, to promote the international event was also played by several puja organisers when the idols passed the main podium while marching down the Red Road. With a handsome number of foreign tourists turning up, the carnival focused on providing a significant boost to the tourism industry. Various people-friendly schemes of the Mamata Banerjee government like Sabuj Sathi, Kanyashree, Yuvashree, among others, were highlighted through decorative lightings and innovative artwork. Tableaus were decked up with cut-outs of the logo of Kanyashree project and puja organisers also narrated the crux of the scheme through neatly crafted dance performances.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation, in association with the tourism department, had decked up Red Road and its adjoining stretches, garlanding it with bright lights. The entire route from Esplanade to Fort William, along with Red Road, Hospital Road, Cassurina Lane and Kidderpore Road were beautifully lit up, reflecting the grandeur of Durga Puja in West Bengal. "It was similar to the style embraced in Chandannagore, Hooghly, where such a parade is held, each year, after Jagadhatri Puja," 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 was inspired by Chandannagore, where people from all parts of the state assemble to catch a glimpse of the parade. The Durga Puja organisers also utilised the Red Road platform to spread important social messages through different art forms. Amidst the massive Durga idols on tableaus, members of all age-groups of almost all the Puja committees participating in the carnival presented a themed dance performance. Most of their performances were inspired by Bengal's communal harmony. It may be mentioned that the Chief Minister had repeatedly emphasised that communal peace and harmony has been a long-standing tradition of Bengal.
When Mamata Banerjee had announced the carnival last year, 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 Rajarhat's Eco Park that would display the artefacts and handicrafts utilised by various clubs during the festivities of Durga Puja. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, inaugurated the museum during her visit to Prakriti Tirtha, in February this year. It is for the first time in the state that some of the selected, best artworks displayed in various puja pandals will be preserved. It was Banerjee who first realised that if this artwork could be preserved and displayed, then many people, both from the country and abroad, would have an opportunity to witness and appreciate their intricacies.
Presently, at Sangraha in New Town, which is maintained by West Bengal Housing and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), the handicrafts and artefacts used in the pandals of 12 community Puja committees have been put up for public display. They are Badamtala Ashar Sangha, Hindustan Park Sarbojanin Durgotsav, AK Block Salt Lake, Kolahal Durga Puja Committee, 41 Pally Haridebpur, Tridhara, Barisha Club Behala, Behala Friends Club, Kalighat Milan Sangha, Ultadanga Pallyshree, Ballygunge Cultural and Tala Barowari. The museum has come up near gate number four of Eco Park. It is fully air-conditioned and organised measures have been taken to protect the handicrafts from dust and wear and tear. It remains open between 2.30 pm and 7 pm, from Tuesdays to Sundays. HIDCO has launched a booklet containing the photographs of the artworks during their display at the different Durga Puja pandals.
The Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority had created an infrastructure for preserving the pandals and idols at a gallery in Rabindra Sarobar, in the year 2012. However, due to the lack of maintenance, the gallery did not live up to its expectations. The KMDA is presently developing the place with state-of-the-art infrastructure. It was way back in 1985, when a leading paints company had announced that they would award the best decorative Durga Pujas in the city, that the process to shift from traditional (Sabeki) puja to theme puja commenced.
As years went by, the organisers gradually transformed their pujas to a grand affair with diverse themes and larger-than-life installations. In 2016, the initiative of Banerjee to organise the carnival upped the pomp and grandeur associated with the Puja, by several notches. The pandal decoration with removable and mobile objects was positively propelled with the Chief Minister's initiative of the carnival.
Last year, there wasn't enough time to plan the procession. "This year, we hired specialised artists to decorate the tableaus, dance troupes were booked and a budget of more than a lakh had been earmarked," a puja organiser of a Ballygunge based club said.
"This Puja Carnival is the first step towards our goal of Biswa-Bangla. We will grow bigger and grander in the future," an official of the state Information and Cultural Affairs Department proudly claimed.

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