Monday, 2 November 2015

The Art of Calcutta's Durga Puja

Durga Puja, or as Bengalis say, Pujo, is Calcutta’s biggest festival. The Hindu worship of the Goddess Durga, marks the beginning of autumn and commemorates Lord Rama’s summoning of the Goddess at this unusual time (the normal time being spring) to seek blessings for his battle against Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Here in Calcutta (Kolkata), Durga Pujo has morphed into something quite different and much larger than a mere religious festival. Calcutta’s Durga Puja has turned into both an explosion of installation art, as well as what is being acknowledged as the world’s largest street festival. Bengalis are known to be liberal in their interpretation of religion, and Calcutta’s Puja organisers now compete against each other every year, drawing from the realms of art, folk culture and even current affairs to put a new spin on the idol of the Mother Goddess.


The traditional idol is always the same. In the centre is Maa Durga, her ten hands holding ten weapons. Accompanying her is her “vahana” or mount, a lion. Together they do battle against Mahishasura, the demon who is able to take the form of a water buffalo and is usually shown emerging from one. Durga is thus known as Mahishasura-mardini, the slayer of Mahishasura. Mahishasura is usually seen near Maa Durga’s feet, her spear having pierced her chest. Surrounding Durga are her children, from left to right, the elephant-headed Ganesha and his mount the rat, the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi and her mount the owl, the Goddess of learning Saraswati with a “veena” in her hand and with her mount the swan and finally Kartik or Kartikeya and his mount, the peacock. Durga's husband, Lord Shiva must also be portrayed somewhere in the scheme of things, and is usually seen high above the battle scene, looking down on the carnage. In this photo feature, I present to you some of the most unusual depictions of the Mother Goddess this year. As I toured the city taking photographs of the Puja, I was reminded of a phrase used by The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek as an album title - The Whole Thing Started with Rock and Roll Now It's Out of Control.



Gujarat themed idol at Badamtala Asharsangha



The world's tallest Durga, 88 feet tall, at Deshapriya Park

Cosmic union - Chetla Agrani Club portrays Durga making love to her husband, Lord Shiva


Barisha Udayan Pally's idol strikes a dancing pose

Red and Gold - Behala State Bank Park

Hypnotic! Hatibagan Sarbojonin

Shiva chills out above the battle scene! Hindustan Club

Back in Black! Kumortuli Park

All hands to battle-stations! Nalin Sarkar Street

Darkness and light - Salt Lake AK Block

Barisha Club places dancing figures representing classical Indian dance forms inside earthenware pots all around the idol

Bakul Bagan's idol was created by painter Manu Parekh

Wood, clay and brass - tribal art influenced idol of Bhowanipore's Abashar


 - by Deepanjan Ghosh
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