Monday, 24 October 2016

21 Stunning Durga Pujas of Calcutta

Durga Puja, or Pujo, as Bengalis say, 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), 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 now being acknowledged as the world’s largest street festival.

Ballygunge Cultural

 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. The whole thing is housed in a pandal, a temporary construction, usually of bamboo. Pujo is officially only for 5 days. At the end of it, the idols are immersed in the Ganges and the pandals are dismantled.

My parents say that a change began in the 70’s with a Bhowanipore puja known as Sanghamitra which first experimented with alternate materials, making an idol completely out of seashells one year, and bamboo on another, instead of the usual clay. The trend caught on. Everyone wanted to be different, and the “theme pujo” was born. “Theme pujo” is almost a norm now, where idols, and entire pandals are decorated based on an artist’s creative vision. The idol in such pujas, therefore, is re-interpreted to fit the theme. Mahishasura often takes the form of the popular villain of the day (even Bin Laden) and Durga and her children can turn into anything from tribal warrior to something straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar.

Calcutta’s Puja organizers 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. 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.

Bhowanipore 75 Pally
Agradoot Udaya Sangha

Bagbazar has firmly said no to "theme pujo". The idol here remains unchanged year after year.

Barisha Club - I wonder why the lion looks like a cross between a Dachshund and a dragon?!

Behala Friends Club

Behala Natun Dal
Bhowanipore Durgotsav Samity shows Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee praying to Maa Durga

Bhowanipore Gol Maath

The purportedly 1000-handed Durga of Deshapriya Park. 1000? Really?

Some pujos, such as Ekdalia Evergreen are known for their giant chandeliers

Hatibagan Nabin Pally's theme is the North Indian Kavad Yatra

Hatibagan Shorbojonin provides a near professional black background!

Hindustan Park

Kashi Bose Lane

Like Bagbazar, Maddox Square remains steadfastly traditional. It's main attraction is the "adda" which often lasts hours!

Mudiali Club's idol is instantly recognisable

Nalin Sarkar Street

Traditional and stunning - Salt Lake BJ Block

Dark, brooding, and possibly Buddhist? Selimpur Pally

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

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