Durga Puja is almost here, and we’ve curated a list of places you can visit in Kolkata to witness the festivities and be a part of the celebrations. By Anurupa Sen and Priyanka Lamba
The season of festivals is just around the corner, and there is no better way to embrace the incoming festivities than worshipping the glory and valour of Goddess Durga. Beginning on the fifth day of Navratri, Durga Puja is celebrated to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura.
Last year, the Calcutta High Court had set forth stringent COVID-19 restrictions — no one was allowed to enter the pandals and visitors were asked to pay their obeisance from a distance.
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As per an India Today 2021 report, even though the West Bengal government hasn’t come up with any restrictions for the puja season this year, it’s likely that the guidelines will be quite similar to those of the previous year.
This year, Kolkata will come alive with colourful pandals and idols of the Goddess during the Durga Puja festival (October 11-15). So, here’s a guide on how to celebrate and witness this Durga Puja in Kolkata:
Santosh Mitra Square
For over 80 years, Santosh Mitra Square has been gracing its audience with nothing less than a spectacle when it comes to pandals and its themes. Because of the pandemic last year, organisers had restricted visitors to those living nearby, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While last year’s pandal was a 12-foot-tall structure housing the idol (pictured) based on the concept of the Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand, artist Mintu Pal told reporters that this year’s idol will be a “traditional” one. He added, “Because of the pandemic, we are not experimenting much. I am hoping that after this, other clubs will follow suit.”
Situated in North Kolkata on the banks of the Hooghly River, Bagbazar is touted for its century-long tradition of hosting the Durga Puja on its soil as well as its association with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and other young nationalists from the pre-independence era. The pandal exhibits a series of performances, including sword and baton fights, which pay tribute to the history of a group of armed youths called “Anusilan Samity”, who had vowed to overthrow British rule.
In 2020, Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsav and Exhibition stuck to its age-old traditional design of a simple pandal adorned with a grand chandelier. The ornamental pratima, or the idol, showcased “Ek Chala”, or what can be termed as the idol with a single backdrop. The performances, however, were put on hold due to the pandemic.
No pandal-hopping is complete without a tour of the College Square Durga Puja pandal. Thronged by hundreds of visitors every year, this venue, which dates back to the late 1940s, saw a host of restrictions last year due to the pandemic. Despite that, the idol of Durga was set up with the same grandeur as it has been through the years.
A chandelier, covering the entire ceiling, was hung at the centre of the pandal and iconic paintings by Raja Ravi Varma graced its walls. The decoration and lighting are one of the highlights of the College Square Durga Puja pandal, set up opposite the historic University of Calcutta. This year, organisers are reportedly going for a low-key celebration, with a smaller idol, keeping COVID restrictions in mind.
Samaj Sebi Sangha
This community was formed to offer its services to those affected by the communal riots in Bengal in 1946. Since then, the Samaj Sebi Sangha has themed its decoration of pandals to send a message to society. Marking its diamond jubilee last year, the organisers paid a tribute to those who bore the brunt of Cyclone Amphan. They visited the ravaged plains of the Sundarbans and vowed to care for 75 families.
For the pandal and the idol (pictured) it housed, artist Pradip Das worked on the theme of “setu” (bridge), to symbolise the Sangha’s efforts towards the marginalised community. He said, “The way Samaj Sebi Sangha has extended a helping hand to lift up the needy and accommodate the marginalised people in the mainstream of society reminded me of a bridge, that is why I worked on this theme of building a ‘setu.’”
Ballygunge Cultural Association
Another venue you must visit if you are out pandal-hopping with friends is the Ballygunge Cultural Association. Known for its simple and traditional decor, the venue is located in Kolkata’s Jatin Das Road. Over the years, artists have focussed on the themes of love and devotion to Goddess Durga, and this year, too, we are expecting the same, if not something grander.
This pandal in South Kolkata is known to dazzle visitors with its grand themes like the 2017 theme inspired by Thailand’s White Temple. In 2015, the park housed the world’s largest Goddess Durga idol at an imposing 80 feet and was made of cement and fibreglass.
While similar COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be imposed on pandals and gatherings this year, it seems unlikely that the rules would lessen the scale and grandeur of the festivities at Deshapriya Park.
Mohammad Ali Park
Organisers of the Youth Association of the Mohammad Ali Park have mostly themed their pandals’ designs on architectural marvels from around the world. However, last year’s Durga Puja theme came with a twist. Instead of slaying the demon Mahishasura, Goddess Durga was shown killing “Coronasura”, to bring forth the struggles faced by all during the pandemic.
In a conversation with The Indian Express, Ashok Ojha of Mohammad Ali Park said, “By replacing asura’s idol with that of a ‘corona demon’, we pray that the Goddess slays the virus, in the way that she slew Mahishasura. Our purpose is to make people aware of the importance of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing norms.”
The Kumartuli Park Durga Puja is the perfect blend of grandeur and art. The unique architecture of the pandals and intricately designed idols of Goddess Durga attract those who wish to witness the beauty and magnificence of Durga Puja.
Last year’s theme was “Man and Mask, the New Normal,” emphasising the need of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This year, the organisers will aim at making 12-feet-tall idols. However, the exuberance among people is set to make a comeback in Kolkata during Durga Puja this year.
(Some of the pictures are for representational purpose only. Main and Feature image: Tanuj Adhikary/Unsplash)