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A Visual Feast: Kolkata's Durga Puja Through the Lens

After four years I explored Kolkata's Durga Puja pandals, only to be spellbound by its captivating themes and artistic brilliance

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29 Oct '23
5 min read


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Describing Durga Pujo is like trying to capture a whirlwind. In Kolkata, or as I fondly call it, Calcutta, the city doesn't just celebrate the festival; it breathes it. As soon as you set foot here, you'll sense the festive vibes rushing through its veins. The drudgery of 9-5 grind takes a backseat.

Art, creativity, boundless energy, and fervor flood the winding lanes. Decked up with dazzling lights, the city is a dancing queen in the night. At every juncture, you will come across a pandal of varying dimensions and themes. Every corner unveils pandals of different sizes and themes. This year, the themes ranged from joyful (picture puchka, autorickshaws, spice land, literature, Disneyland) to traditional (like the Jagannath temple), socially conscious (think anti-ragging and menstruation), and even somber (highlighting child trafficking). A visit to the city and you'll understand why this festival earned its spot on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. As GenZs would remark, it’s a vibe.

Art, creativity, boundless energy, and fervor flood the winding lanes. The streets are adorned with dazzling light displays that turn the city into a radiant masterpiece at night. It's a whole different ballgame here.

For me, it's about three things: the rhythmic beat of the dhaaker awaaz (sound of drum) waking me up, relishing the divine bhog prasad, and embarking on night-long pandal-hopping adventures. In between, there's quality time with friends and family, watching performances and attending the sandhi puja.

Now that we've bid farewell to the Goddess and prayed for her return next year, I'd like to cherish the moment by sharing my thoughts on the pandals that will remain vivid in my memory.

  1. Presence of divine in personal space - Tala Prattoy
    Stepping into Tala Prattoy pandal felt like a journey into an artist's abode, which, as we later discovered, was the curator Susanta Paul's intention. The Telegraph, a renowned publication in West Bengal, hailed it as a 'game changer among pujas in Kolkata.' In Susanta Paul's words, it embodies 'the presence of the divine in our personal life, space, and existence,' emphasizing the coexistence of the artist and deity within the same setting. Paul himself temporarily took refuge within the installation, making himself a part of the public display. As visitors, our attention oscillated between the breathtaking 80-foot chandelier installation and a sleeping Susanta on his four-poster bed. We even got our eyes on Susanta's private lounge with elegant wrought-iron garden furniture, a spacious 700-sq-ft washroom, and an extensive library stocked with books on diverse topics like management, religion, architecture, films, and history, featuring images of luminaries like Rabindranath Tagore. Safe to say, we were blown away by the idea and its flawless execution.


  2. Girl child trafficking - Kashi Bose Lane 
    The reality hit us hard with its portrayal of the grave crime of girl child trafficking with its interplay of red, white and black hues. Every step in the pavilion, the posters and artwork highlighting the atrocities against children and women left a lasting impression on us. They say art should move you in ways you can't describe. Kashi Bose Lane pandal haunted us. 





     
  3. ‘Abol Tabol’ - Hatibagan Nabin Pally
    A personal favourite, this pandal beautifully paid homage to 'Aabol Tabol,' an iconic gem in Bengali literature. Just to provide some context, it's a cherished collection of Bengali children's poems and rhymes penned by Sukumar Ray, filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s father. In my early childhood, I fondly remember my grandmother reciting those poems on her house's balcony. To recreate that nostalgic, bookish ambience (think black-and-white pages), every house in the neighbourhood was adorned in white paint, with 3D interpretations of the book's illustrations and poems adorning the buildings. This pandal became a delightful time machine, transporting me back to my grandmother's home and the warmth and love I yearned for in current times.



  4. 'Samahare Somaroh' - Mudiali Club
    In South Kolkata, the renowned Mudiali Club embraced the theme of 'Samahare Somaroh,' which translates to 'splendor.' This theme beautifully symbolizes the unity of people during festivals and commemorates the club's 89th year. Departing from the traditional use of cloth, artist Biman Saha adopted an all-metal aesthetic for the pandal, using items like utensils and bowls. The result was nothing short of spectacular.




  5. Dokra craft - FD Block
    This magnificent pandal pays heartfelt homage to the ancient bell metal craft of dokra of Bankura in West Bengal. It was brought to life by a skilled decorator from Mecheda who, over four months, artfully employed wood, cloth, paint, and bamboo slices to craft this 40ft wonder. As we approached the pandal, we were greeted by the towering presence of Bankura horse, which threw us off. The show only started when we saw the interiors, especially the alcoves embellished with a charming array of dokra-inspired figurines on the pandal walls. We were just hypnotised by the intricate artwork-led grandeur.
     

     
  6.  ‘Bir Purush’ - EC BLOCK
    The pandal drew inspiration from Tagore's ‘Bir Purush.’ It ingeniously resembles a grand chariot, its massive wheels prominently displayed on the sides. The facade is adorned with spears, and atop it, you'll find terracotta soldiers standing guard. The idol by Sanatan Pal also proudly carries the rich influences of terracotta art. 




     
  7. Lorai (fight) - Kumartoli 
    Kumartuli Sarbojanin Durgotsva's 2023 theme, 'Lorai' (meaning 'To Fight'), symbolizes Kolkata's resilience in the face of challenges. What truly stole the show at Kumartuli Sarbojanin this year is the magnificent Goddess Durga idol. The mandap's exterior boasted detailed kantha-style decor, and another area showcased a variety of charming straw artworks. The breathtaking intricate work is a testament to the boundless creativity of Kumartuli's artisans.





    Now I am no photographer. But I am halfway convinced that visuals have done the job of adding Kolkata's Durga Puja to your bucket list. The experience is worth it. 

 

 

 

Category : Personal Experience


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Written by Madhuwanti Saha

Writer, daydreamer, procrastinator