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TRUE SPIRIT IS THE THEME

Route 1

Small pujas that show how to embrace the True Spirit of the festival, grand ones that lead by example and some that fail to make a mark — the Vivekananda Park-Golpark-Jadavpur puja trail is a mix of highs and lows.

First on the list is True Spirit veteran Tridhara Sammilani, which has maintained its high standards of safety, security and civic consciousness that had earned it a Model Puja crown in 2009. But it could do better in ramping up the first-aid centre. In terms of aesthetics, there’s no faulting this big-ticket puja. The theme is world peace and the pandal has been built to look like Buddha, making for a visual delight.

Selimpur Naskarpara Sarbojanin Durga Puja’s ambience resembles the Har Ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar but doesn’t quite live up to the True Spirit charter. The absence of proper drinking water facility and a helpdesk are downers. So is the bare minimum firefighting equipment.

Kalitala Sporting Club, off the Anwar Shah connector, shows how a small puja can make the festival safe and meaningful for all. The standout features are ramp access to the pandal, an ambulance on call, adequate medical facilities, a fully-loaded helpdesk and special measures for greening the locality. With all the right boxes ticked, the global-warming theme doesn’t ring hollow.

Shahidnagar Sarbojanin Durgatsab has also tried to make sure that pandal-hoppers are not inconvenienced. The arrangements include proper toilets, medical help and drinking water.

Shyama Pally Shyama Sangha, near Sukanto Setu, has depicted Kobi Gaan through scenes from Anthony Firingi, while Dasnagar Sarbojanin Durgotsab Committee in Jodhpur Park has recreated a baul village. But both fall short in the True Spirit stakes.

95 Pally Jodhpur Park, whose theme focuses on recreating the moment of joy after Durga vanquished Mahisasur, has adequate toilets but lacks proper first-aid and drinking water facilities.

Jodhpur Park Saradiya Utsab Committee, which is in its diamond jubilee year, is all about community participation in everything from volunteer duty to eating bhog together.

The last stop on the route, Dhakuria Sarbojanin Durgotsab, does not have any facilities for people living with disability or proper waste management but springs a surprise in one respect.

The organisers have acquired the Phonographic Performance Limited licence to play copyrighted music that many of the bigger pujas don’t have.

Route 2

An alley lined with houses on either flank opens out into a stunning vista: a huge iron pipe-framed butterfly flying out of its cocoon as its centrepiece. Naktala Udayan Sangha on Krishanu Dey Sarani is a showstopper all right. So is Samaj Sebi Sangha on Lake View Road, whose “Ekal-o-Sheykal” theme depicts the transition from the simple Bonedi Bari puja to the aesthetic extravagance of today.

Both pujas bank on their visual appeal to bring in the crowds. Thankfully, their True Spirit quotient doesn’t dip in the process. Naktala not only measures up to the standards of safety, convenience and social commitment, it has even acquired the Phonographic Performance Limited licence to play music protected by copyright.

Lake Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab Committee on Janak Road has 2D and 3D animation panels that are a treat for the eyes, especially at night. But for a truly eco-friendly puja, head to Bengal Boys Training Association near Kalighat police station. This puja has its heart in the right place, depicting the extinction of bird species as a challenge to mankind. But it falls short in terms of True Spirit requirements like medical amenities and fire extinguishers.

Golf Green Sarodotsava Committee, one of the True Spirit veterans, has put together the fictional tribal village of Meghashini, complete with a rakta kunda inside the clay Durga temple. But there is no ramp to help the elderly or people living with disability reach the pandal. The emergency exits aren’t adequate either.

Kolahal Gosthi on Chetla Road is in its second year as a True Spirit puja and its tribal village is different from that of Golf Green. The hand-painted Santhal alpona walls are a standout feature.

Netaji Jatiya Sebadal, Ranikuthi, and Sree Sangha, Kalighat, show a flair for innovation in the design department. The clay Durga idol at Netaji Jatiya Sebadal acts as the canvas for the story of Mahishasur Mardini, while Sree Sangha has showcased lamps gathered from across Bengal for over a year. Where both pujas lack is in the execution of the True Spirit guidelines. The Ranikuthi puja has the required signages in place but an empty helpdesk and an open toilet are letdowns.

Ekush Pally Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samiti’s photoframe theme may not impress everyone but it keeps the True Spirit of the celebration alive with most of the required facilities.

Route 3

Tucked away in the congested lanes and bylanes of Behala are some True Spirit veterans. The simple pandals with all the ingredients of a safe and happy puja at hand impressed the judges. From adequate fire extinguishers and medical kits to toilets for men and women, helpdesks with volunteers and CCTV surveillance — these pujas have it all.

Bose Para Sarbojonin Durgotsav has a medical counter, perhaps the only one with a nurse along with a well-equipped first-aid kit, blood pressure monitor and a list of available medicines with manufacturing and expiry dates mentioned. The organisers have also installed emergency LED lamps not only in the pandal but at the first-aid and drinking water booths as well.

Acharya Prafulla Sangha has walked the extra mile, installing smoke detectors and fire sprinklers. It is also the only puja in the zone where lead-free paint has been used.

Behala Debdaru Fatak Sarbojonin Durgotsav, on the other hand, scores with its crowd management. The medical counter at the puja has two stretchers and an ambulance ready to tackle emergencies.

Barisha Tarun Tirtha, with its colourful pandal and Ferris wheel theme, brings back childhood memories. The spacious pandal and separate entry and exit points are primed to win over pandal-hoppers and the judges alike. Stalls selling handloom items have been set up, keeping in mind the puja’s commitment to social cause.

Another True Spirit pro, Nandana Yuva Sangha, has emergency numbers displayed prominently besides volunteers to attend to elderly and disabled visitors.

Route 4

It’s a mix of the old and the new in this area. Chetla Agrani Club has portrayed the goddess in a modern avatar while the asur looks like a winged fallen angel, much like Satan in Paradise Lost. The organisers have made sure the firefighting arrangements are top-notch though it could have done much better on the eco-friendly front: the pandal is made with plastic and there are kalchakras in front of the pandal with rubber wheels, all inflammable. But there are eight gates to escape if a fire breaks out.

The traditional style rules at the Chetla Sarbasadharaner Durgotsab pandal, where the goddess has been rendered conventionally. The puja, 86 years old, has all the essential facilities — medical, washrooms and drinking water — in place. There are chairs and wheelchairs for senior citizens and persons with disability. In contrast, medical facilities are absent at the Kalighat Bayamagar pandal, which has been decorated with artwork in the Jamini Roy style. But there is no provision of a wheelchair or ambulance.

Badamtala Ashar Sangha has paid special attention to being eco-friendly. The pandal is lit with LED lamps, the four arched gates are made with sugarcane, water hyacinth and sawdust, with the deity done up in a metallic golden hue.

Kalighat Milan Sangha’s idol stands out because the goddess is depicted as a fisherwoman. Plenty of thought has been given to being eco-friendly: waves have been made with used bottles and the entrance is of tin. There are special arrangements for senior citizens and people with disability. There are wheelchairs and an ambulance ready. The pandal is a no-plastic zone.

The pandal at Sanghasree, however, lacks essential services like washrooms, generators or an ambulance. Ironically, there’s a wheelchair but no ramp.

Two small pujas deserve special mention — Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club and Ballygunge Purbapally. The former has paintings of various women at the entrance — Gandhari, Behula, Draupadi and Meerabai, among them — and shows the many roles that women play in society. The theme of the latter is the artisan who makes the goddess and the pandal. Both pujas have adequate firefighting arrangements.

Route 5

The pujas here showcase indigenous art forms. While most score in terms of facilities for the elderly and for putting out fires, waste disposal systems are a disappointment.

At Nagarik Kalyan and 47 Pally Jubak Brinda, the pandals screamed free spirit and freedom but the use of plastic bags to create the illusion of water at the latter was not becoming of a True Spirit puja. Madhya Kolkata Sarbojanin Durgostsav, decorated with Rajasthani Minakari work and frescoes, has a ramp to facilitate wheelchair movement.

Machua Bazar Sarbajanik has cut-outs of characters from Chhota Bheem, a children’s TV show, but even more impressive is their effort to control the crowd and make emergency facilities available.

Pathuriaghata Pancher Palli has sprayed fire-retardant chemicals on pandals. 20th Pally impresses with efforts at energy conservation. Sovabazar Beniatola has put up ‘no smoking’ signs and firefighting equipment every few steps. Hatkhola Gossain Para projects the goddess as the preserver of nature but the plastic décor lets it down. Sinthee Agragami Sangha struggles in many respects but is redeemed by its earthen decoration.