The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blend of beauty, safety

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Behala Agradut Club: Innovative use of dhunuchi and diya
Nandana Yuba Sangha: Madurs by Midnapore craftsmen used to telling effect


41 Pally: Tribal, traditional and environment-friendly
Maniktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty: Well-arranged and compassionate
Ajeya Sanghati: Aesthetics with a commitment

The theme was a return to the roots, and it was a blend of aesthetics, safety precautions, civic consciousness and social commitment that won the judgment day for Behala Club.

This pandal was crowned the CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Model Puja on Saptami, after a tour of the top six, short-listed from around 130, over two days of judging.

A tribal art form of Maharashtra was the theme of the Behala Club puja, which had brought down artisans from Thane district, as well as artisans from Chhattisgarh, Purulia and Midnapore to craft the pandal.

But what impressed judges Shuvaprasanna, Pallavi Chatterjee and Derek O'Brien the most was the 'outstanding electrical system'.

There was also a wheel chair if needed, adequate fire precautions, drinking water, toilets, effective crowd management, ambience'What more do you need' was quiz master Derek's declaration.

Artist Shuvaprasanna added, in the same vein: 'What they had managed to do, which is essential, is harmonise the artistic aspect with the safety measures, without the latter looking out of place.'

'Well-balanced' is how actress Pallavi described it. 'It had everything right ' from safety measures to the ambience and d'cor.'

This puja, now in its 61st year, has been participating in the True Spirit event since it began in 2003. 'The club has been running a free textbook-lending library for 26 years, with books from Madhyamik to the graduation level for underprivileged students. The prize money (of Rs 50,000) will help us with that project,' said secretary Bulbul Roy.

The two pujas named in the Five Star category, with a prize of Rs 25,000 each, were Nandana Yuba Sangha and Behala Agradut Club. The former, in its 49th year, had used madurs made by craftsmen from Midnapore for their pandal. The latter, that Pallavi described as 'innovative', used dhunuchis and diyas as the theme for its 56th puja.

'We are very happy with this award,' smiled Kallol Gupta, assistant secretary of Nandana Yuba Sangha. 'We entered the True Spirit competition from the first year, because we felt that Calcutta pujas were starting to fall behind in this respect. They're becoming less social and more commercial. Durga puja is losing its flavour. But the social commitment should not be forgotten on the festive days.'

The club in Behala has a number of ongoing, round-the-year social service projects that it will use the prize money for, explained Gupta. From a medical camp twice a week to free eye camps, check-ups and more.

The Behala Agradut Club puja was a first-timer, but had adhered to most of the rules and regulations. But it lost precious points because the judges felt some of the electrical wiring was loose, which could be dangerous.

The lamps used for the pandal were made by club-member Subodh Ray, with help from five skilled craftsmen in Kakdwip.

'Winning the award is great news' We will call a meeting soon to decide how to use the prize money,' said club secretary Goutam Majumdar.

The judges said they were unanimous in their decision, adding that it was more good work than pure coincidence that put three Behala pujas in the top three list.

'Overall, there was a great sense of awareness and responsibility, but without losing the flavour of the Pujas,' felt Derek. Shuvaprasanna added that it was important 'not to try too hard to impress', like the Maniktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty, which, although well-arranged, was just a little 'put on'.

Its 'commendable' redeeming quality, however, was around Rs 50,000 donated to the chief minister's earthquake relief fund.

The three Four Star Pujas ' bagging Rs 15,000 each ' were 41 Pally and Ajeya Sanghati in Haridevpur, and Chaltabagan Lohapatty in Maniktala. In addition, there were 10 Three-Star pujas with prize money of Rs 10,000 each, and 10 Two-Star pujas getting Rs 5,000 each in the event organised in association with HCL Beanstalk and partnered by Calcutta Police, West Bengal Fire Services, Concern for Calcutta and Power FM.

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