KOLKATA, INDIA, October 6, 2013 (Times Of India): Two years ago, Goddess Durga got a major makeover at two puja pandals (temporary temples, some very large, set up street-side during festivals) in Kolkata: darker skin, softer features and, somehow, a more Indian look. Behind this makeover was filmmaker Goutam Ghose, who wanted Durga to look like she did before the British set foot on the sub-continent. Since then, many statues have even begun sporting Dravidian features.
Even outside Kolkata, community pujas are roping in arts and film personalities, as well as architects, interior decorators and even movie set designers. Their task is to suggest, and sometimes design, themes for the pandals and looks for the statues. Hence, a mind-boggling array of themes — from Rajasthan forts and an Orissa fishing village to Harry Potter’s magical world and the exploitation of tribals — find creative and colorful display at community Durga pujas.
Organizers want to not only give their pandals and statues a distinct look, but also win competitions instituted by various corporate and other entities. With the entry of such professionals, Durga pujas, previously the domain of “artisans” –statue-makers, pandal-builders and decorators — have become a public art event, says Tapati Guha-Thakurta, professor of history, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences. Social scientist Suman Bag points out that with theme-based pujas gaining popularity, the festival has become more universal.
Take the example of the work being done by artist Sanatan Dinda. With his 24-member team, Dinda turned the puja pandal of a west Kolkata club into a massive piece of installation art. The theme is conservation. Artist Bhabotosh Sutar has carved the statue out of a 16-ton sandstone block transported from Jodhpur for a west Kolkata puja. The theme music for this puja, scored by Ustad Rashid Khan, is based on Rajasthani folk tunes.