Beth A. Payne, American consul-general in Calcutta, a judge for CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja on Ashtami, pens an account of her first Puja in town:
I have been going pandal-hopping from Friday and the first thing that strikes me about the Durga puja is that it is very public. Anyone regardless of his or her income, class, caste or religion is welcome to participate. At its heart and soul it is a festival for everyone.
There is a lesson in the story of Durga who comes to Her home on earth every year and it is our duty to welcome Her to an earth that is not destroyed by pollution and environmental hazards.
Durga puja also yields itself to a very relevant symbolism today. She was created by all the gods who gave Her their respective weapons. It talks of working as a team where you give what you are good at. We can combine our forces and create a Durga today from our energy. Pollution, neglect, misuse of nuclear weapons are all demons which this Durga can fight to save the world.
Tridhara Sammilani was by far my favourite among the finalists even though there were others which followed the rules by the letter. What works for the particular puja is that it is open on all sides and there is a lot of room for people to circulate.
The depiction of the Tamil Nadu-style temple and the very south Indian idol was a delight for a photographer like me. It was one pandal that truly inspired me.
I am stumped by the creativity of the people of Calcutta. I learn a little more about Durga every time I enter a pandal as every pandal tells Her story in a different way.
There is something about Bengal that I think inspires creativity.
I am glad that I joined the True Spirit Puja team as a judge. It took me to parts of Calcutta that I had never been to before and showed me how one can encourage voluntary development of environment-friendly pandals and foster community spirit.
As this is my first Puja in Calcutta, I am glad I got around to seeing so many pandals. I even gave anjali while judging one of the pandals on Ashtami and I am doing this after 18 years!
The last time was at a friend’s place and I did not even know what it was called.
I am eager to experience the whole Durga puja affair so I will be taking a boat out to the Hooghly on Friday to see the immersion and be shutter-happy with my camera.
I am posting all these photos on Facebook for my family to see what Durga puja is like.
My only regret is that I missed going to the ghats on Mahalaya to see the whole process of people giving offerings to their ancestors.
But there is always next year.