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Spirit first in festive finale

The final round of CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja 2012 was all about going beyond glamour and grandeur into the heart of the biggest festival in Bengal. On Saptami morning, the judges — actress Raima Sen, film-maker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, industrialist Harsh Neotia and wife Madhu, American Center director Jeffrey K. Reneau, shooter Joydeep Karmakar, Aniruddha Basu and Subrata Auddy from CESC, Sandip Haldar from the fire department and Raj Modi, the managing director of Vedic Realty — visited the five pujas that have best upheld the true spirit of the festival.

Suruchi Sangha

Five Star Puja

One of the biggest crowd-pullers, Suruchi Sangha in New Alipore, was the first stop. The big-budget puja, with Goa as its theme, depicted the effects of ocean pollution. It was an instant hit with the judges, who were impressed with the way the pandal had recreated the carnival feel of the western state. Crowd management earned Suruchi Sangha plenty of points.

Neotia was all praise for how the organisers were handling the surge of people and the “powerful theme of preservation of marine life”. Raima liked the art deco design with recycled coconut shells and the sand art. “I think this puja has managed to score on all the elements that make a True Spirit puja. The structure is very beautiful and eco-friendly,” she said, before trying her hand at playing the dhak. She was joined by Roy Chowdhury. “I used to do this at my parar puja many years back. Khub moja laglo onek din baade (Had great fun after a long time),” the film-maker said. “The waste management could have been better, though I didn’t find too much of garbage lying around,” he added.

The organisers had not forgotten to take care of the small things that make visitors comfortable — drinking water, toilets and firefighting measures. The committee had not only insured the pandal but also provided individual insurance cover to pandal-hoppers. The organisers also provided free legal services to people living below the poverty line.

Roy Chowdhury was impressed by the scale of arrangements and Reneau by the meticulousness of the organisers. “I wonder what they’ll do with the sea shells though,” said Reneau.

Behala Club Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee

The second stop, Behala Club, a small puja tucked away on Banamali Naskar Road, was open, spacious, well-organised and extremely colourful. The pandal, depicting the theme of “darkness to light”, was made entirely out of bamboo. Not a single part of the plant was wasted with even the shavings being used for decoration. “We wanted to show the movement from darkness to light tracing the path of the light itself from its origin to the final destination,” said one of the organisers.

With ramps in place next to each staircase, the puja kept in mind people with disabilities. From a detailed map attached to the help desk and drinking water arrangements at three different places to providing handouts to pandal-hoppers on what facilities were available, including a list of the medicines at the medical centre and their expiry dates, and security cameras, the puja had not overlooked a single detail in making the festival happy, safe and meaningful.

Roy Chowdhury loved the décor. “I love the play of light and shade used in the pandal,” he said. With a budget of Rs 15 lakh, the pandal took 75 days to be completed. “They have used the bamboo, which is an eco-friendly material, in various ways. There are intense colours but I also liked the fact that there is a lot of blank space that gives relief to the eyes,” said Neotia. Raima too loved the bamboo work. “I would love to come back at night to check out the hues and shades of the pandal and its colourful lights,” said the actress, a little sad at having to leave for Mumbai mid-Puja for a shoot.

Keeping the true spirit of Puja alive, the club donated Rs 10,000 to an eight-year-old girl in need of help to treat her damaged kidney. The cheque was handed over by governor M.K. Narayanan. “We are collecting money through coupons throughout the next five days and we plan to give another Rs 80,000 that we collect to her,” said an organiser.

41 Pally Club

Four Star Puja

Volunteers dressed in yellow escorted the panel to the Haridevpur pandal. “It is easier to identify volunteers if they are in T-shirts of the same colour,” said Neotia. The judges were welcomed into the pandal by the beats of tribal drums and women in red-and-white saris, who put chandan tikas on their foreheads. A True Spirit veteran, 41 Pally Club maintained the standards that had made it a Model Puja. With the Snakes and Ladders theme, the organisers wanted to depict the role of fate and faith in the game of dice and in life. The central piece, a seven-tonne cube made of recycled cold drink bottles, was balanced on top of the mandap. Wide entrances with ramps, a map of the pandal, CCTV cameras, fire alarms, sprinklers and medical facilities with two beds made the judges happy.

“I love how they have taken care of everything. They have made excellent arrangements and I love how they have involved children. Even their theme would appeal to children,” said Reneau, who played the drums with Raima by his side. Roy Chowdhury, too, felt the “innovative concept” would appeal to kids.

“I tried dancing but Raima didn’t allow me,” cribbed Roy Chowdhury as Raima retorted: “There was no space for you!”

Raima was flooded with autograph requests and also paid a visit to Sampark Shishu Kendra, a nearby orphanage, where she chatted with children and signed autographs for them. “It was cute that they asked me for autographs and I was quite taken aback when the little kids said that they’ve watched 22shey Srabon!” she said.

Four Star Puja

Tangra Gholpara Sarbojanin Durgotsav

The convoy of True Spirit Puja turned towards Tangra from the EM Bypass, following volunteers on bikes who led the way from Silver Spring, to reach the pandal made of iron and wire mesh. From the entrance to the exit, one has to encircle the mandap three-and-a-half times. “What I liked most about this pandal is that you could do a parikrama of the deity as you are exiting,” said Neotia.

The mul mandap was an iron structure and Durga with her entourage stood on a wooden platform at the centre of an artificial water body. Priests were offering prayers standing on the platform. When some judges wondered whether that was risky, an organiser explained that the platform was erected on a concrete pillar and no one was being allowed on it except the priests.

Maniktala C.I.T. Pally Scheme VI (M) Durgotsav Committee

The 51-year-old puja in Kankurgachhi, the last stop, was high on tradition. The judges were greeted with bouquets. An ambulance stood at one end of the park for an exigency and a doctor waited in the medical corner. Reneau got his blood pressure checked! “The organisers are so warm and friendly,” he remarked afterwards.

Five Star Puja

It was hard to find a True Spirit flaw at the puja. There was a ramp for the elderly and the disabled, and eco-friendly cane baskets on sticks served as dustbins. The entrance to the pandal was lined with paintings of the goddess and eco-friendly messages by children from the locality.

Even during sandhya arati, the most special part of the puja here, caution was not thrown to the winds with each diya being placed on a sand base in addition to other fire-safety measures. Cultural programmes were held over the four days and people from the locality were involved to foster community bonds. “For us, Puja begins two months before Saptami and everything is done by members of the community,” said an organiser. “I love the homely feel of the puja,” said Roy Chowdhury.

While Raima took time out to meet, greet and pose with a swarm of para boudis, Roy Chowdhury was struck by the “sobriety” and the “family-like environment with elders passing on the puja tradition to the younger ones”. “I like the shabeki, well-cultured style of celebrating Puja,” said the film-maker.

Text by Chandreyee Chatterjee, Jhinuk Mazumdar and Mohua Das
Pictures by Pabitra Das