[These pictures are from Durga Puja festivities in 2015. With the noble intent of writing a separate post on the pandals in each of the main areas of Kolkata, I had painstakingly created drafts for them embedding photos taken by me from the respective geographic zones. True to form, they stayed just that i.e drafts. Now with some time on my hands and a wishy washy memory of what I saw where, these posts will be more of creative non-fiction. Please forgive any wrongly labelled pandals. 2 years is a long time ago, sometimes]
A few words on The South first. Me, I have always been a Central/North Calcutta boy. The multiple paras of the south spread in a non linear fashion have always been confusing for me. Is Deshapriya Park close to Ganja Park (yes, there is such an official unofficial name for a park)? I don't know and will probably never know.
However, I do remember this pandal and where it was located. "The World's largest Durga" was advertised as far as Assam and Sikkim.
Almost everyone who went pandal hopping in 2015 remembers this particular pandal... as the one which they were unable to see.
We (my parents and me) got lucky in that respect. We went to catch the Deshapriya Park idol before the Puja officially began and that same evening, the pandal itself was shut down by the police and civic authorities citing stampede like conditions.
So much for the advertising, as most people who wanted to see the world's largest Durga idol were now left to stare at the world's largest curtains as the idol was covered up. The idol itself was indeed massive and had a cement cast look. A cement company was the main sponsor of the Puja at Deshapriya Park and the look of the idol ensured that no one would ever forget that. Impressive yet not worth being stampeded upon for.
On then to the Mudi Ali pandal which had a funky "angels having a bubble bath" theme. We went early morning when most of the night crowds had retired from pandal hopping for the day. Consequently the narrow lanes on which the pandal was located were only a quarter as crowded as they would be 12 hours later.
Though the pictures shows a crowd, it is not a crowd as would be defined under "This is crazy and unnecessary" Durga Puja levels.
Angels having bubble baths was a good photographic opportunity. I made ample use of it.
And overdid it eventually.
While I was clicking angel bubble baths, the pandal was filled with chants of worship for a 8 year old, standing in for Goddess Durga. This tradition known as Kumari Puja is not a feature of all Puja pandals but was in this one.
Another pandal in the neighbourhood of Mudi Ali had this rather high looking Shiva as its centerpiece. High and happy it must be said.
Shiva, amongst all the gods of our Hindu pantheon, is one who is really complicated. Chilled out yet destructive, happy but short tempered. By far, the most interesting.
This pandal had a huge selection of Deviant Art-ish Shiva images and some of them were truly impressive, showing Shiva in his true tribal rawness. A lot more can be done in this regard, to create stylized images of our galaxy of gods. Will give our art world a boost and a much needed challenge to our national imagination.
In the same neighbourhood, a small but nikhoot (the Bengali word for flawless) idol caught my eye. The choice of colours and symmetry of Durga & her family showing that bigger is not always better when it comes to the quality of craftsmanship.
Sometimes, it's possible to beat the crowds by timing your visit to the pandals. Sometimes it's not. My trip to the Suruchi Sangha pandal, a regular star on the south Calcutta pandal circuit was a case of the latter.
And it was 05:00 AM in the morning! Why on earth were so many people awake at such an unearthly hour?
Before judging further, I realized that I too was one of them,
With the grand South Indian temple theme that the Pandal had, sweat and blood being poured into a structure that would stand only 4 days, the crush of the crowds in a strange way was quite understandable.
The pictures from the Ekdalia Puja are next. With wood being the dominant look, it was quite something to look at.
Big ass chandeliers seemed to be a trend. If you have a high roofed pandal, go on sling them on seemed to be a general understanding all around Kolkata. So was this. Didn't hurt the look, that's for sure.
A couple of folks who are as crazy as me about waking up at all manner of odd hours to go pandal hopping are me mom dad as pictured below at the Singhi Park Puja. As they say, the apple never falls far from the tree.
Yep. The colours got a little trancey there but hey, what's art without full expression? This pandal expressed... in 4K colour!
The organizers may have raided the nearby Gariahat Market's street stalls for this variety of umbrella shades and it really had no link with the remainder of the Singhi Park Puja's theme. But what the heck, they looked good so they got strung anyway.
That then, was a synopsis of the South Calcutta Puja pandals in 2015. Did you learn much about the neighbourhood in the process? Nope. Did you learn much about the actual Durga Puja in the process? Nope.
Well, you learnt the main lesson there. That the Durga Puja is less about religious rituals and more about artistic adventures. Stay tuned for the remainder of the Calcutta zones.