At the heart of Barasat’s Colony More area in West Bengal, the centre of attraction over the past few days has been a replica of Russia’s St Basil’s Cathedral. No, it’s not another faux monument joining the league of Kolkata’s ‘Big Ben’ at Lake Town. This happens to be the theme of the Kali Puja pandal organised by local club Nabapally Association.
The theme of this pandal, its makers will tell you, is the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But look past the many football references and you will see something much more stirring.
Goddess Kali’s idol, with a peaceful gaze and a child in its arms, has a striking resemblance to Mother Mary.
At one glance, you may miss it, but a closer look will show you: The idol’s slightly-lifted right arm, her clothing, the crown on her head. And above all, just like how Mary cradles Baby Jesus in almost every image, Goddess Kali here is holding a child in her arms.
Look closer and you’ll see, it’s Lord Shiva.
The near-perfect replica of the grand Moscow monument has attracted pandal-hoppers from across the state, more so the diehard football fans. Needless to say, it has earned much appreciation for its creativity and intricate artwork. But alas, art and communal harmony are not understood by all!
Many found this ‘church influence’ on Kali Puja – what’s the word we’re looking for – offensive.
“Eta ektu o valo jinish noi dhormi o upachar e bideshi sthapotyo nirman kora… Khub baje laglo (This is not at all a good thing, enforcing foreign concepts on religious customs… I find this very bad),” read one comment on a video of the pandal.
“Ha sab ch***yapa hai isme maa kali ke asli rupko dikhaya hi nahi ye toh pura christianity ko darsa raha tha [sic]… (This is all nonsense, they haven’t showed Maa Kali’s real image at all, they have only endorsed Christianity),” read another such comment.
Those who appreciated the pandal’s art and message – and there were many – came to its defence. But to understand the pandal and its story better, we spoke to its organisers.
“The idea behind the resemblance between Goddess Kali and Mother Mary was to show that all faiths are one, that there is no divide,” Arnab Kumar Das, a member of Nabapally Association, told The Quint.
But why this concept in the first place?
“The reason why we took this concept for our pandal this year is because communal harmony, which the world always needs and India is known for, is decreasing in our country,” said Chayan Kumar Das, another member of Nabapally Association.
“With our idol where Goddess Kali resembles Mother Mary, we wanted to spread the harmonious message that mothers, in all forms, are the same – that God cannot be be defined in one particular way,” he added.
Why is Goddess Kali Cradling Lord Shiva?
Many haters wondered why Lord Shiva, who is depicted to be under Goddess Kali’s feet in images and idols, is in her arms instead at this pandal.
To explain the idea behind showing Goddess Kali cradling Lord Shiva – her husband – in her arms like a child, party member Arnav Kumar Das takes us back to the Puranas.
“In the Purans, when Shiva consumed poison, his wife, Goddess Parvati, fed him breast milk like a mother to reduce his pain,” he says, explaining that the idea was to bring out the motherly image.
‘World Cup is Not Just Entertainment’
Celebrating its 39th year of Shyama Puja (ie Kali Puja), the Nabapally Association’s theme for the pandal this year was 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“Our main agenda was to represent 2018 FIFA World Cup through our pandal this year. Since it took place in Russia, we took inspiration from its most famous St Basil’s Cathedral,” Das told The Quint.
“But that’s not all,” he added. “We have aspects of the World Cup spread across the pandal.”
That was not an exaggeration. From blown-out pictures of famous footballers to live shows of local footballers doing tricks, to the artwork inside, the pandal is a paradise for football fans.
In fact, the entire wall behind the idol has been decorated with statues of angels that have flags – for wings – of countries that participated in the FIFA World Cups.
But then, why deviate from the football references?
“When the World Cup was initiated after the First World War, the agenda was to spread a message of unity and harmony among nations. This is the same message that we tried to convey via the artwork in the pandal,” Das says.
“After all, football world cup is not just about entertainment, it is also about awareness,” he adds.
How Did the Crowd Take to It?
Making a replica of the majestic St Basil’s Cathdral was not an easy task. The construction had started back in August, and the investment, Das says, is still increasing by the day.
“To recreate the interiors of the cathedral, the best suited material was silk thread, so we brought in artists from Midnapur, which is known for its silk thread artwork,” he said.
And what was the response from the public?
“Darun, darun, darun! (Amazing, amazing, amazing),” Das laughs.
It’s true. Most people on social media as well applauded Nabapally Association’s pandal.
“The truth is, 100 percent of the public will never appreciate something. There will always be some negative response. But in majority, we have received appreciation,” said Das.
“Both Mary and Goddess Kali are mothers. You cannot differentiate mother’s love. No one is born with a religion,” he asserted.
“After all,” he adds, “Maa maane toh maa (Mother, after all, is a mother).”