What Stories Did Kolkata Durga Puja Pandals Tell This Year?
Durga Puja is almost over. By Saturday, 20 October, Kolkata will go back to being, well, a regular city. But before Maa Durga packs up and heads back home to Kailash, let us, one more time, discuss ‘pandals’.
It’s Nabami today, so your pandal-hopping must be (better be!) over. But just like that shoe bite you got from walking in new footwear from Tridhara to Deshapriya Park to all of Singhi Park and beyond, your memory of all the pandals is fresh.
So, without much ado, let’s rewind and check out some of the incredible stories Kolkata pandals had to tell this year.
Story of Sex Workers - Ahiritola Jubak Brinda
It’s an age-old tradition of Durga Puja to borrow clay from a brothel’s premises to build the Durga idol. North Kolkata’s Ahiritola Jubak Brinda, this year, took a step further and borrowed inspiration from there.
The artists behind this pandal molded everything, from the exterior artwork to the idols inside, to represent the struggles in a sex worker’s life. And as it should, the art was not only appreciated by scores of pandal-hoppers, but also helped spread a social message.
Story of Rani Padmavati - Sree Bhumi Sporting Club
Sree Bhumi has a thing for movies. Last year, this Lake Town-based club blew people’s mind away with their enormous Baahubali-themed Durga Puja pandal. This year, bringing in a sort of ‘sequel’ to that, the club built a pandal dedicated to the movie Padmaavat. So while in some cities Bhansali’s controversial movie was shown the door, Kolkata built a temporary monument in its honour.
While the artwork and popularity is off the charts, one has to admit that Sree Bhumi, lost in its extravagance, is getting a little repetitive. Let’s face it, this year’s model of the Chittorgarh fort, as beautiful as it is, is pretty similar to 2017’s Mahishmati palace replica.
Story of Lord Krishna - Kumartuli Park
“We live in a difficult time. Conscience and empathy are losing out on us. The only way out of this misery is divine faith. And this divinity lies in Shree Krishna...”
That is the description on Kumartuli Park Sarbojanin Durgaotsab Committee’s Facebook page about this year’s theme for their Durga Puja pandal.
The pearly-white structure, topped with peaceful-looking Krishna with flowing hair and the background music of bansuri, was all about spreading tranquility. Compared to its previous performances, Kumartuli Park did raise the bar this year.
Story of Street Children - Bosepukur Talbagan
Legend has it that Goddess Durga picked up weapons to save the world when the gods or, more specifically, the ‘men’ couldn’t do it. That goddess, in this year’s pandal at Bosepukur Talbagan, literally steps out of her role as a warrior to don that of a benevolent mother feeding street children.
The main objects used in this pandal are pipes; the huge, cemented ones that often become houses for homeless kids. Here’s where they study under the street light, where they eat, sleep, and seek shelter in through rain and shine. Surrounded by models of such needy children, a pandal-hopper may be forced to wonder what good they have done this festive season. Extra brownie points to Bosepukur Talbagan for that guilt-trip.
Story of Refugee Crisis - Behala Friends Club
Durga here is dedicated to Aylan Kurdi, and the thousand others who have died due the ongoing global refugee crisis.
South Kolkata’s Behala Friends Club build its pandal with boats – the mode of escape for refugees from their war-torn homeland – and colourless statues representing displaced refugees living out of their bags. And plastered on the walls of the pandal are newspaper cutouts of reports about genocide.
Amid all the celebrations, this pandal managed to conjure a haunting ambience. And even as you exit the gates to hop ahead to the next pandal, you cannot quite shake off the feeling.
On Dashami (the tenth day of Durga Puja), during visarjan we chant, “Ei barta jemon-temon, aaste bochchor aabar hobe.” Loosely translated, this means, “What’s done is done, coming year we’ll do it all over again.”
And so, as we wrap up this year’s pujo celebrations, we hope that next year sees artists come up with even better, even more thought-provoking ideas for Durga pujo pandals...though the street food of the pujo season, we hope, never changes.