|From top: The deities at Shib Mandir, Maniktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty and Kalighat Milan Sangha. Pictures by Pabitra Das
There were several pitfalls and problems. But thanks to participation from the entire para and adherence to the true spirit of the Pujas, it was smooth sailing to the top for the Maniktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga puja.
The north Calcutta puja was, on Ashtami, crowned CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Model Puja for 2004.
The Chaltabagan puja is not held in an open field, nor at the end of a lane. Instead, at 77 Raja Rammohan Sarani, it's bang in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.
But the judges of True Spirit were bowled over by the attention to detail and the crowd management.
The toilets were visited, emergency water supply tested and organisers quizzed on various aspects like electricity use and eco-friendliness (even sound limiter in place).
The result was impressive enough to award Chaltabagan the Model Puja, with a funding of Rs 50,000 towards an ongoing social project in the para.
CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja, in its second year, is not another contest judging the grandeur of the pandal or the innovation of the idol. Instead, it's an attempt to make the Pujas safer, cleaner and more meaningful.
And the rise in awareness levels about the true spirit of the Pujas was evident on Thursday morning, as the judges did the final rounds of six pandals shortlisted from 115 participants.
Actress Moon Moon Sen and daughter Raima, former cricketer Snehasish Ganguly, educationist Rev. Noel Sen, retired judge Gitesh Ranjan Bhattacharjee, Calcutta Municipal Corporation's Utpal Mukherjee, CESC's D.N. Majumdar, illustrator Debasish Deb and RED FM station manager Jimmy Tangree were 'most impressed' by what they saw ' safety measures and civic consciousness, social commitment and facilities for visitors.
At the end of the day, the Chaltabagan organisers wore the broadest smiles. 'It's not just us, the entire neighbourhood is rejoicing after hearing the news,' said organiser Ashok Jaiswal. 'The involvement of each and every one has made this possible.'
Last year, the Puja had managed a three-star award. Plans are already being drawn up to make the best use of the funds. 'We'll open a medicine room for free check-up of para people round the year,' announced Jaiswal.
Kalighat Milan Sangha and Shib Mandir Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity were the Five-Star pujas, with a prize kitty of Rs 25,000 each.
Shib Mandir, last year's Model Puja, had moments from three of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's novels this time. The temple scenes in Debi Choudhurani, Anandamath and Kapalkundala were recreated in the giant pandal, modelled on a fort.
The social commitments of this puja involved activities with children from the nearby slums, including a basic computer training centre and a night school.
The award will be used to extend the services and offer tiffin and healthcare to students, organisers promised.
At Milan Sangha, tucked away in a Kalighat gali, the theme was folk, complete with straw-thatched huts and a tulsi bedi in the middle. Ranjit Chitrakar and his family from Pingla village, in Midnapore, sang the Durga panchali and explained the wall paintings.
'We will use the amount to provide education to the children of those engaged in pat shilpa, as well as the children of sex workers,' was the pledge from Samir Banerjee, one of the organisers.
'It's a very special award, since all the aspects are judged. We're very happy, but more relieved at having passed the close scrutiny,' he added.
The Four Star roll of honour read 22 Palli Sarodotsab, Pallisree Sarbojanin and 25 Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity, with the prize money pegged at Rs 15,000 each.
At all three stops, the d'cor and the arrangements were impressive. If 25 Palli had a rustic look, bringing in tribal people from distant villages who danced and sang in groups, 22 Palli recreated the Gourigad fort of Rajasthan.
On the whole, the awareness count in the six Pujas was what left the judges convinced that this was a step in the right direction. 'The level of awareness that we found was a healthy sign of growing concern for the community,' observed Rev. Noel Sen.
Moon Moon Sen, who announced the Model Puja with daughter Raima, put the puja initiative into perspective: 'There has been a certain amount of awareness that has been instilled in the puja committees, but a lot of ground is still to be covered.'
Click here to view the pujas online