Although Durga Puja festivities are yet to begin officially, people are flocking to Bosepukur Sitala Mandir to catch a glimpse of the puja pandal made of biscuits. It was only after entering the pandal that people realised that the biscuits were fake and made of clay. It was meant to propagate the message of equal food distribution.
It focuses on the Hindu goddess Annapurna, the giver of food and nourishment.
Durga Puja pandals are known to be modelled on various themes. Puja committees explore all types of creative avenues to attract masses. However, social issues are gradually emerging as a central theme for many popular pujas in Kolkata.
Carrying the tradition forward, the Baishnabghata Balak Samiti puja committee has based its pandal on the dying river Adi Ganga. The river was once the main flow of the Hooghly and was navigable, flowing within the city’s southern parts. The river has now dried up and is reduced to an open sewer due to rapid and unplanned urbanisation of the city.
“The message is to save the river which once played a significant role in trade during medieval Bengal. We have installed a 14 feet high mural which portrays the mythical background of the origin of the Ganges,” pandal artist Basudeb Pal told The Hindu.
Observing that the trend is now leaning towards the personal attitude of artists and organisers, eminent social scientist Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri said: “Initially, theme pujas was not about sending social messages to the masses, the focus was on artistic sensibility. As long as aesthetic values are maintained, the introduction of such [social] issues is welcome.”
Suruchi Sangha puja committee has modelled its pandal on Chhattisgarh, propagating world peace as its social message. Using the instance of unrest and violence in the State, an artificial tree of life depicting local art has been erected in front of the pandal, signifying peace and tranquillity. Similarly, 25 Palli puja committee has used a similar approach by modelling their pandal on a Thai Buddhist temple. Basing the theme on the idea of heaven and hell, organisers said while the hell represents conflict, the Thai temple represents peaceful heaven.
While many pandals in north Kolkata, like Shimla Byam Samiti and Bagbajar Sarbojanin keep their pandals traditional and devoid of any themes, many other pandals in this part of the city draw crowds. One of the oldest pandals in the city, Mohammad Ali Park pandal, has depicted various faces of Lord Shiva and the pandal at Santosh Mitra Square is modelled on an Egyptian temple.
Innovation in technique
Besides experimenting with themes, organisers are exploring newer techniques in creating the idols. Jodhpur Park puja committee decided to think out of the box and opted for a 3D printed Durga idol, instead of the traditional life sized clay ones.
Explaining the technique, Ujjwal Mitra, who heads the team that built the idol, claimed this was the first ever Durga idol to be printed using a 3D printer.
“A 3D printer prints an object exactly the way we see it, from all dimensions. The printer works like a robot, which is fed with inputs via a computer. The idol was printed using paper and is bio-degradable. About 60,000 A4 sized paper sheets were used to print the 8 feet by 14 feet idol at a cost of nearly Rs. 1 lakh,” Mr. Mitra said.
Observing that theme pujas represent integrated thinking, professor and sociologist Saswati Ghosh said: “It’s not just limited to gimmickry but involves co-ordination between artists and organisers. Theme pujas are not just restricted to Kolkata, it is also gaining foothold in the rural areas.”