By Tirthankar Mitra
Time was when Calcutta as it was known then glorified itself in the title of ,”City of Palaces” owing to majestic buildings be it offices or grandees’ mansions dotting it. Lamenting those glorious gone by days when merchant princes from the city ran the economy of the country and beyond stop during the four days of the puja as Kolkata is choc-a-bloc with palaces of cardboard and bamboo built on myriad themes ranging from the Somnath Temple to a story which fetched Ernest Hemingway a Nobel prize.
A battle of themes in which the little grey cells of the organisers working overtime double as artillery pieces and ammunition seek to get the better of neighbourhood competitors as well as those offering worship to the goddess at the other end of the town. Rituals and revelry fade into the background as the strife and suffering in Manipur appear as themes nearer home at Salt Lake FC Block Sarbojanin named “Manipurer Ma”.
Arjunpur Amra Sabai, a club in Baguiati has a 15 feet mud idol sculpted by Bhabatosh Sutar representing Durga is another take on Manipur. So is Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem “Bidrohi” The Rebel is heard in the background its theme is “Ganadevata’,” the deity of the masses takes a look at the Manipur strife depicting defiance in the face of an adversary.
Badamtala Ashar Sangha off Rashbehari junction has Protirup (The Reflection) as its theme. The pandal is an urban forest made up of eco friendly objects is the brain child of Debatosh Kar, the theme artist.
Briksha Moder Matri Shakti pointing to reverence to trees is the theme of Jadavpur 96 Pally near Sulekha. Its message is an appeal as well as a protest against deforestation. Pujas in a city which has produced Nobel laureates in literature and economics cannot be far away from books. The theme of Bagha Jatin Tarun Sangha is Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.
Not quite within hailing distance of this community puja but neither very far off it too, Santhoshpur Survey Park community puja pays tribute to Sandip Dutta for setting up the only little magazine library in the city. Little magazines on display at the pandal inaugurated by the widow of this unsung pioneer are a pointer to their thankless service to different facets of literature, culture and other issues while a clay .model of Dutta keeps watch on what were the most precious possessions of his life.
Site of many festivals, the puja at Rani Rashmoni’s Janbazar residence was not being held for three decades. It is being held this year with Ditipriya Roy who essays the role of the legendary queen in a popular television serial expressing her joy at its resumption..
Organising one of the oldest community pujas in the city attended by both Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, rituals are followed in detail at the Sovabazar Rajbari which was in the news for the wrong reasons. Sparks flew nearby when large cutouts of BJP leader J P Nadda scheduled to visit the city were found to be overturned.
Politics is loath to leave pujas especially if it is Nandigram where Trinamool Congress supremo suffered her maiden defeat in Assembly polls in 2021 to her onetime Cabinet colleague Suvendu Adhikari. Adhikari locked horns with TMC spokesman, Kunal Ghosh each challenging the other’s claim on who has inaugurated more pujas.
Governor C V Anand Bose whom controversy has dogged almost since his landing in the city appears to kick off another war of words on Dashami, the Durga immersion day on October 24. He will be awarding Bangaliana Puraskar of Rs 5 lakhs, not stated to be sourced from state coffers, it is being awarded on the basis of highest number of email messages in support of a community puja displaying the traditions of Bengal.
Reverting to themes, it is Prana (life) that is the theme of Hindustan Park Sarbojanin. The pandal is a sawmill look alike with abandoned firewood collected from the city’s outskirts decking up its interiors. Ahiritola Sarbojanin’s theme is Abinashwar (Indestructible); Somnath temple of Gujarat ransacked and destroyed 17 times by invaders. It seeks to depict the unconquerable human spirit. Eco friendliness is the theme of Suruchi Sangha. It lives up to its name.
.Kidderpore Sarbojanin Durgotsav makes no concealment of its opposition to corporate advertisements. Their pandal is decked by a 1500 m cotton banner. Food and water crisis is the theme of Patuli Sarbojanin Durgotsav. Sound effects and paintings within the pandal seek to make the people aware of the scourge of draught.
Here is news for any one seeking to refresh his/her memory about the advertisement “Size matters”. An half inch idol is being worshipped at Gobardanga Bhattacharyapara Sarbojanin Durgotsav at North 24 Parganas. As if to strike a balance, a fibre-made idol of Gobardanga Milan Sangha is 50 feet high. The goddess and her entourage are being worshipped in a Jain Mandir look alike pandal at Park Circus maidan. Uma Amader Gharer Meye is the theme of Haltu Shakti Sangha.
Among all the puja pandals with varying themes, the Hatibagan Puja’s theme on Abol Tabol and its writer Sukumar Ray is under discussion among the pandal hoppers and the literary circles. The nonsense rhymes of Sukumar have been regaling the generations of Bengalis for the last one hundred years. The puja pandal copied the house where Sukumar, the father of legendary Satyajit Ray was born and his rhymes were painted on the walls of the houses leading to the pandal. It was a unique idea on the centenary of the death of Sukumar Ray.
Bengalis lack money power, joblessness still haunts thousands of youth both educated and unskilled. But on these days of puja festival, their innovative instincts reach its peak and irrespective of caste, creed, religion and status, citizens join in a festival which surpasses its religious rooting and turns into the biggest socio-cultural phenomenon of the state. It is significant that few incidents take place during these days when millions of people are in the streets in Kolkata and the districts. (IPA Service)