Signs of creativity are in abundance at the pujas in the Picnic Garden-Ekdalia-Santoshpur belt on Panchami morning but most organisers haven’t yet put safety measures in place.
The festive ambience is evident at Saradia Sammilani on Ekdalia Road and Bosepukur Sitala Mandir Durgotsab Committee. Saradia Sammilani has tried to replicate the Thai temple in Bodhgaya. The colourful entrance led early-bird pandal-hoppers to the sanctum sanctorum. Pillars dotting the pathway have dragons etched on them while a Buddhist statue greets visitors near the Durga idol. “Even the idol is influenced by Buddhist art. The pandal design is mine while my wife Sharmila helped with the drawings,” said Soumen Biswas, an interior decorator.
The organisers have arranged for chanting of Buddhist shlokas by monks for two hours on each of the four festive days in keeping with the peace theme.
The first-aid kiosk was ready, with a bed and medicines. “We have also arranged for a wheelchair, though it is not available now,” said an organiser. There were several guards at the entrance to manage the crowd.
Wheelchair-users can enter the pandal easily but drinking water and waste disposal arrangements still needed to be taken care of.
The story was the same at Bosepukur, one of the better-known pujas in south Calcutta. The pandal, made of parts of a hand-drawn rickshaw, looks resplendent. Clay models of wheels and a rickshaw decorate the interiors. Fire extinguishers were in place but other safety measures were being taken care of.
Santoshpur Trikon Park impressed the most. The organisers had already arranged for temporary toilets, ramps, drinking water, an ambulance and restroom for persons with disability and senior citizens. LED lamps have been used to illuminate the pandal whose facade resembles a kadam flower while the interiors play on the theme of the Earth and its layers. The idols are at the centre of the Earth. Much of the interior is made of paper, thus scoring points for eco-friendliness.
Kendua Sarbojanin Durgotsab in Garia has Ganga pollution as its theme. The elaborate project was planned for almost a year and executed over almost four months. However, the pandal made of plywood, jute and bamboo had just four fire extinguishers. “There is a fire station just five minutes away. So we will have no problem in case of an emergency,” said an organiser.
He claimed that by evening a well-stocked medical unit, a wheelchair, drinking water arrangements and also a police camp would be in place. The pandal had a ramp and handrails for people with disability.
Yet another creative pandal was that of Santoshpur Lake Pally. It has used solar panels for lighting. The pandal, made from the wood of jackfruit trees, depicts the theme of peace.
At Avenue South Pally Mangal Samity, perforated steel (a recyclable product) has been used to depict how the goddess protects us in difficult times (represented by asura). Adi Ballygunge Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity has paid tribute to Dwijendralal Ray with its theme Dhana Dhanye while 24-year-old artist Monojit Sarkar has saluted patachitra through his handiwork at Tangra Sthaniya Adhibashi Brinda.
A school for underprivileged children, support for tribal hockey players from Jharkhand, smoke detectors and friendly volunteers in pandals — most pujas in this zone have their hearts, and minds, in the right place.
All the pandals are equipped with wheelchairs, but Shibmandir Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samiti deserves special mention for creating a separate entrance for persons with disability. All safety norms have been kept in mind while building the pandal at Shibmandir, whose organisers have been running the Shibmandir Shiksha Niketan.
But it’s not about safety and social responsibility alone, there is an abundance of creative themes as well — from the evils of cloning at the Shibmandir puja to peace message at South End Club and childhood revisited at Bengal United Club.
Mudiali Club, a True Spirit veteran like neighbouring Shibmandir, however, has chosen to tread a different path and stayed away from themes. The pandal is not only a visual treat but has smoke detectors fitted all over the ceiling besides state-of-the-art fire-fighting equipment such as a hose attached to the terrace of the opposite building and a separate lane for persons with disability, right from the parking area up to the main site.
Back to the world of themes, Bengal United Club with its Shoishob-ke Jouboner Chokhe theme was all about reliving childhood. Artist Prashanta Paul has used dolls and around 16,000 balloons, covered with six layers of papers, to decorate the pandal. The organisers have been doing their bit for society as well, taking care of food and accommodation of tribal players from Jharkhand and other neighbouring areas during the hockey season every year. The puja also fulfils all basic True Spirit criteria such as fire extinguishers, first-aid box and clean drinking water.
Adi Lake Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity and Parasar Nabodaya Sangha were the next two stops. Lake Gardens People’s Association stands out not only for the recreation of a South Indian temple but also for its facilities and friendly volunteers.
Saradia Sammilani Chotuskon Park has an intriguing concept — education sets us free. The idols were armed with pencils, slate and musical instruments instead of weapons. But when it came to the True Spirit movement, the puja was sadly lacking. So was South End Club, despite the use of LED lamps for energy conservation.
Golden Arrow Club has a heartwarming message to convey with its theme — Shantirupena Samsthita — while Pratapaditya Road Tricone Park Barowari Durga Puja Committee recreated the abode of Lord Shiva. Both scored average on their commitment to maintaining the true spirit of Puja and Lake Gardens Mitali Sangha is still a work in progress.
Text by Chandreyee Ghose & Abhinanda Datta
Pictures by Pabitra Das & Bhubaneswarananda Halder