Durga Puja 2010: Kolkata Dazzled in the Light of Festivity

durga puja 2010

It was almost a decade that I had kept myself away from the light of festivities during the Puja. I rather enjoyed spending the four days of the festival with my family and extended family at the quiet of home. But Durga Puja in 2010 has been different, perhaps 20 and 10 both are my favorite numbers and lucky for me too! 🙂

durga puja 2010
Amader parar thakur (Durga idol in our neighborhood)

This year I decided to get out and explore the Puja pandals, as many as possible. And what I found out is a dazzling Kolkata, all the more beautiful during the Puja days. The atmosphere has changed a lot. People are more mannered, crowd is more manageable, music is somber and tasteful and the designs and décor of puja pandals bear the mark of artistry and excellence with theme–based Pujas, far from the conventional decoration and mikes and sounds systems here and there blaring out cheap peppy songs all through the day in our childhood.

durga puja 2010

However, ‘puja’ today is not limited to its literal meaning, ‘worship’. It has expanded to include the idol of the goddess, the design and decoration of the pandals and the ambiance to win an award. Some Puja committees dedicated their pujas in the memory of Tagore, the great poet, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated across the state this year.

durga puja 2010

I have perceived the prevalence of glitz and glamour in every nook and corner with the complete commercialization of one of the biggest festivals of India and the most coveted one in Bengal.

durga puja 2010 lighting

From sponsored hoarding displaying puja greetings to contests for the best dressed or beauty to awards for the best pujas in the city the reflection of commercialization seen everywhere. What I did not like is that ice creams, drinks and bottles of mineral water were being sold at Rs. 2 to Rs. 3 higher than their MRPs at various stalls given by some of the leading brands. Also the over-enthusiasm regarding theme-orientation has played a spoil sport for some the pujas in Kolkata, especially when it comes to making idol of the goddess.

durga puja 2010 idols

Well… this is my personal opinion after visiting some of the well-known pujas across the city. There was also that perpetual, tiring and irritating traffic jam due to pandal constructions along the roadside.

dhak, durga puja 2010

Still, with all the negativities and flaws Durga Puja in Kolkata rocked again. Even heavy rain in the afternoons of Maha Saptami and Maha Ashtami couldn’t dampen the spirit of the metropolis, for we have waited for it one l-o-n-g year! Tonight is the last of the Durga Puja – the idol has been carried out of the pandal and ready to be taken to the Ganges for immersion.  Bijoya greetings have already started flowing into my message inbox, reminding me that festivity never ends, it just keeps us waiting for another year ahead. Shubho Bijoya!

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A Day out in the Alley of Potters called Kumartuli

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata

Narrow lanes, hand-pulled rickshaws, tram lines and red-brick houses with louvre windows – yes … I am talking about a typical North Kolkata neighborhood.

kolkata, north kolkata streets
North Kolkata Streets

It’s that time of the year again, with Durga puja round the corner, we (Deblina and I) planned to explore Kumartuli, one of the cultural precincts of Kolkata. It was a Friday morning that we headed towards Kumartuli. From Shobhabazar-Sutanati metro station we took a rickshaw to Kumartuli, where clay sculptors were busy in making idols. Bright sunshine on my shoulders and the deep blue sky above were telling that autumn is on the threshold and with only one month left for the Pujas idol making would be in full swing.

Autumn sky
Sunshine in my eyes…

It was my long cherished desire to visit Kumartuli, the alley of the potters, where gods and goddesses are born (read created) in the skilled hands of mud sculptors who are in the profession of clay idol making for several generations.

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata
Idol making is in full swing.

Well, coming back to where we started our journey. We had to take a hand-pulled rickshaw. As soon as I boarded the rickshaw childhood memories thronged my mind. Such rickshaws were aplenty on the roads of Kolkata those days.  We used to ride rickshaws often, especially in the evenings while returning home after a shopping or a visit to some relative’s place. The rickshaw puller is almost running pulling the rickshaw, and the sound of the bells hanging in his hand … ting ling ting ling (this bell worked like horns) and a small lantern hanging at the back of the rickshaw, just like the rear light of a car – the images are still so vivid in my mind!

Hand-pulled rickshaw in Kolkata
Hand-pulled rickshaw in North Kolkata

However, with the comfort and ease I am trying to sketch the picture of hand-pulled rickshaws, right now, it was no that easy during the ride. I sat stiff and terrified, thinking all the time, what if the rickshaw puller loosens his grip and we’ll land up up-side down (LOL!). Finally, we reached our destination and I was relieved to get down from the rickshaw. 🙂

As we moved on down the lanes the brick walls and structures were like closing in on us. I have never seen such narrow lanes and by-lanes in my life. Much to my astonishment, artisans live in there, with their families and have set up their studios for pottery and idol making! Well… studio, not in its literal sense.

Studios at Kumartuli
Studios at Kumartuli

Their studios are far from what we think or have seen… with scarcity of space, no AC, no fans and small windows refusing the daylight to enter, artisans keep working all day and night during this season. As for equipment and materials, they have clay, straw, ropes (made from coconut fiber), bamboo sticks and two hands – two skillful hands that can transform the shapeless mound of clay into a beautiful and awe inspiring idol of goddess Durga.

clay sculpture
Transformation from mounds of clay to beautiful idol.
goddess Durga
Goddess Durga

Hats off to those artists whose talent will never be recognized… who will never get the chance to bathe in the light of success and recognition.

As we made our way down the alley I was amazed to see half-done idols with a variety of size and features … large, small, medium; with traditional wide-eyed face revealing anger, or with a soft compassionate look more like a simple, native Bengali beauty; posing like warrior against the demons or blessing like mother.

idols of goddess Durga
idols of goddess Durga

We had only a few hours in hand with so much to see. We could only explore a part of the entire area in one hour. Since it was a working day we had pending jobs to do at the office. We set out from Kumartuli, reluctantly. Just as we were walking along the street we saw a tram approaching, much to our delight and we instantly got on it. Sitting inside the tram I felt nostalgic. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed a tram ride.

tram
enjoying tram ride

Trams are rare to see on the roads of Kolkata nowadays. The thought that Kolkata will be losing its heritage one day pains a lot. The metro has transformed a lot with a number of lavish shopping plazas, bustling multiplexes, flyovers and BMW, Skoda and Chevrolet plying the city roads.

Slowly the tram reached the terminal at Bagbazar. From there we caught the bus to Kalikapur, where our office is located. As the bus was passing through Shyambazar crossing I caught a glimpse of the statue of ‘Netaji’,

Kolkata
Kolkata has transformed but the spirit remains the same

basking in the sun, amidst a number of enormous hoardings and signboards trying to cover up the skyline, the bamboo structures for pandals on the roadside, posters of political rallies and the same zeal and enthusiasm for the Pujas reminded me, ‘Kolkata ache Kolkatatei” (The spirit of Kolkata still remains the same)!

Durga Puja 2009: What I Miss about the Pujas

The wait is over! … All the speculations, assessments and consolidated efforts of local Puja Committees have finally come to an end for this year with another happy and joyous Durga Puja, one of India’s biggest and most coveted festivals! I was eagerly waiting for the Pujas; bought new clothes, planned a lot with my sisters. And now it’s over … those four days have passed so quickly just like a beautiful dream destined to dissolve in a few moments.

Durga Puja, the celebration of goddess Durga’s home coming, is grand.  I don’t know how to describe the grandeur of it in mere words … Puja is all about shopping, wearing new clothes, meeting old friends, eating good food, and enjoying together.

The true essence of Dura Puja is found in West Bengal, India, where the festival is held at large. It is celebrated with utmost zeal and enthusiasm in this part of the world. But the festival of Durga Puja is not the same anymore that we used to see a few decades earlier. The mood might remain the same but what I notice the most is the changing trends of Puja celebration.

Durga Puja 2009 :  Photo by Moon Roy
Durga Puja 2009 : Photo by Moon Roy

Theme based Puja is the latest trend, especially in Kolkata. The entire set up, decoration and the idol of the goddess is built following a specific theme, say folk art. A whole new wave of commercialization is evident with so many awards offered by different organizations for the best Pujas around. Cultural clubs organizing big budget Pujas aim to outshine each other with all the glitz and glamour of decoration.

I appreciate this change. It is because of theme orientation that we could see the exquisite art works of tribal temple located in remote corner of Meghalaya or the Chou art of Purulia, West Bengal right here in the heart of Kolkata.  But what I miss is the simplicity and purity of the Puja.

To me, Durga Puja and autumn reflects each other. Crystal blue sky, thin white clouds and waving Kash on the field herald the beginning of the festive season in Bengal.  Mother Nature is in full bloom with lush greeneries all around.

Kolkata was a lot greener in my childhood. There were big trees and lawns all around our neighborhood. The change could easily be observed in green foliages, blooming seasonal flowers and occasional drizzles from clear firmament. Greeneries are missing today; pieces of white clouds in the blue sky alone tell us that Puja is on the threshold!

Photo by Moon Roy
Photo by Moon Roy

The combination of autumn and Durga Puja makes me feel nostalgic. I remember my childhood days – rising early in the morning only to pick Seuli from the garden in front of our old house. The garden bed turned white with flowers covering the grasses underneath the tree. Every morning my father and I entered the garden and pick flowers until our baskets got completely full with Seulis. This was one of the routine tasks in the mornings during the fall.

Image courtesy: Flickr
Seuli : Image courtesy Flickr

Those were some of the best moments I had shared with my father.  My father is no more and those golden days will never come back except autumn returning every year with a new beginning for the Pujas and lots of joy and happiness.  It reminds me how much I miss my childhood days. And I miss you a lot … Baba!