Durga the girl next door, Durga the bride, Durga the warrior — the goddess has many faces and so do pandals in the Kalighat neighbourhood.
Suhrid Sangha is the perfect example of a puja with a large heart. Apart from donating winter clothes to the underprivileged, the organisers have made arrangements for a community lunch on Ashtami where all sections of people are welcome.
The pandal at Suhrid Sangha is made out of weapons, based on the theme Ostro diye ostr-er protibad (protest with weapons against weapons).
At Badamtala Ashar Sangha on Nepal Bhattacharjee Street, so thoughtful is the pandal design that a senior citizen or someone on a wheelchair can enjoy an unobstructed view of the goddess. “I am happy to see there is a separate path for those like us. Wish the other pandals were as sensitive to the needs of the elderly,” said Sheela Gupta, a 70-year-old out pandal-hopping on Panchami morning.
The integration of two houses on either side of the road into the pandal design is worth a mention. It is the perfect way to utilise space creatively.
Nearby Jubamaitry isn’t as visitor-friendly. The pandal at the crossing of Harish Mukherjee Road and Mahim Halder Street is in the shape of a Bengali groom’s headgear and entering it would be a hassle for anyone on a wheelchair in the absence of a ramp.
The theme at Jubamaitry is the goddess’s wedding but chances are you won’t get to be a part of the celebration in comfort. Crowd management did not look promising at the preview, though there is time yet to set things right.
Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club stands out as much for its arrangements as its 30ft tall Durga in her Chandi avatar. Senior citizens and people with special needs will find entering and exiting the pandal a breeze.
|Jodhpur Park 95 Pally
“We supplied raw materials to people with disabilities to make handicrafts, sold the products and gave them the proceeds. Before enjoying Durga Puja ourselves, we think of those whose lives depend on us. Their smiles are important to us,” said Bholanath Chatterjee, the secretary of the puja committee.
At 66 Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab Committee, the colourful blocks at the gate to the pandal will remind you of the Rubik’s cube. Durga is the common woman here. “Every woman is a Durga, be it the girl in my house or the one crossing the road ahead of me. We are worshipping woman power,” said Pradyumna Mukherjee, publicity secretary of the puja committee.
Almost every pandal in the area has a portable toilet each along with drinking water for visitors. Ambulances are common, too. Janamangal Samity has gone a step ahead and even arranged for a hearse that everyone would wish is never required.
The ravages of a week of rain were visible but so was the True Spirit of those organising Durga Puja in this south Calcutta neighbourhood.
Even before Mishawr Rawhoshyo hits cinemas on Saptami, early pandal-hoppers are being greeted by the pyramids of Egypt at the Sarodia Sammilani pandal on Ekdalia Road. The art on the ceiling may be amateurish but the organisers are proud that residents did most of the décor rather than hired artists.
Iron rods rather than bamboo form the structure of the fire-safe pandal. “We have sprayed anti-inflammable chemicals on the pandal. There are many houses close by and even if there’s a fire, it won’t spread fast because of the iron structure,” a member of the puja committee explained.
The arrangements for visitors are in tune with the True Spirit guidelines, including potable water for everyone and paper cups to ensure there is no plastic litter. An ambulance is on stand-by round-the-clock should there be any emergency.
The Santoshpur pujas would also impress those looking for a celebration that goes beyond revelry. Santoshpur Trikon Park Sarbojanin Durgotsab has used LED lights to save power and installed CCTV cameras for security.
“A couple of years ago, somebody tried to steal our pronami (donation) box late in the night. We tracked the culprit with the help of the camera footage,” said Partha Pratim Roy, a member of the puja committee.
There’s also a medical room with basic medicines, oxygen cylinders and a trained nurse at hand along with two ambulances.
Santoshpur Lake Pally has installed emergency solar lights in spite of having a soundproof generator.
In the event of a fire emergency, heat detectors — smoke detectors can’t be fitted because incense would be used in the rituals — will set off the alarm. Two pumps are already connected to the lake, the main source of water for firefighting. The organisers have even procured insurance cover for around 100 guests!
Uniformed volunteers have been deployed to assist senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Adi Ballygunge Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity has arranged for drinking water and wheelchairs but neither service was available on Panchami morning. The organisers promised to get everything ready by evening.
Some of the pujas around Tiljala were disappointing. While Bediadanga Sarbajanin Durgotsab’s spirit showed in its effort, Eastend Park Sarbojanin Durgotsab appeared clueless in terms of amenities.
North Calcutta brings to mind narrow lanes and perennial traffic paralysis. Despite such a dearth of space accompanied by nagging showers, puja organisers along the Hatibagan-Shyambazar belt have banked on one thing to see them through — their True Spirit.
Although many pandals were yet to gear up in terms of safety measures on Panchami morning, Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja was fully prepared for any emergency. The lavish pandal shaped like a lotus seemed to have everything required for the visitor’s safety and comfort.
Ashoke Jaiswal of the puja committee said every possible option had been explored to make the celebration environment-friendly and safe. “We have used aluminium and mica along with proper wiring for the interior decoration,” he said.
Concern for the environment was also evident in a row of solar panels and a small windmill fixed near the roof of an adjacent house. “We will use solar energy, when the sun permits, to light the lamps around our pandal,” Jaiswal said, almost as if he were pleading with the weather gods to support the noble cause.
Chaltabagan Lohapatty, adjudged Model Puja in 2004 and given entry into the Hall of Fame in 2009, has comfortable seating for the elderly and people with special needs along with clean toilets. A room on the ground floor of Jaiswal’s nearby house has been converted into a well-equipped medical unit with two nurses and as many paramedics.
“We are very particular about safety measures and amenities,” Jaiswal said. “Hence our association with True Spirit since its inception.”
|Nalin Sarkar Street
Haritaki Bagan Sarbajanin Durgotsab Committee, Hatibagan Nabinpally Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee, Nalin Sarkar Street Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee and Mohan Bagan Barowari have had to squeeze their safety measures into the narrow lanes that house their pandals.
Although space is a constraint, the effort to present an eco-friendly environment shows.
Haritaki Bagan has hung paintings depicting scenes from the Ramayan from a spiritual and symbolic perspective. Mohan Bagan Barowari relies on eco-friendly jute and thread embroideries to dress up its festive hub. Nalin Sarkar Street Sarbojanin complements the theme by using regular kitchen baskets, utensils and shells to depict Durga as an amalgamation of the panchabhutas or five elements — air, water, fire, earth and ether.
Nabinpally Sarbajonin, winner of three stars in 2010 and 2011, leads this group by using scrap from trucks, bikes, lorries and other vehicles to build the pandal as well as the protima. The materials range from a lorry’s bumper to a bike’s fuel tank.
This group of four, however, falls behind on the True Spirit scale. Haritaki Bagan doesn’t have a proper entry and exit. The toilets aren’t up to scratch either.
Living up to Chaltabagan’s standard is Lalabagan Nabankur Sarbojanin Durgotsav Committee. The pandal here has been modelled on a mountain cave with a long, ornate passage. Not only is the theme fascinating, the choice of material is novel too. Artist Prasanta Pal has built the structure out of old newspapers.
Committee member Tapas Roy said money set aside from the puja budget had been donated to orphans from Jammu and Kashmir who had camped under a flyover near Dakshineswar. A blood donation camp has been underway since the day the foundation of the pandal was laid. No wonder Lalabagan Nabankur had won the Social Commitment award in 2011.
Rain-hit Puja organisers in the Golaghata-Dum Dum area were racing against the clock to ready medical kiosks and install drinking water facilities or firefighting equipment.
“The prolonged rain spell caused endless delay in our preparations. Parts of our pandal were severely damaged,” said Pratik Chowdhury, the secretary of Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra Puja Committee. Despite the hurdles, this True Spirit Puja biggie sported some of the best arrangements on the route.
Built as a Vishnu temple, resplendent in red and wood, the pandal is high on fire-safety measures because the intricate decorations were done with highly-combustible small wood pieces and shavings. The pandal — surrounded by a water jacket — is equipped with fire extinguishers and 18 water sprinklers.
“It will take only a minute to start the sprinklers and other safety measures in case of a fire,” Chowdhury added.
It scored more brownie points for a well-equipped medical room, a restroom for senior citizens, a baby-care room and a permanent toilet for women. With ramps, CCTVs, a police watchtower and a doctor at hand, they have managed to take the True Spirit bar to a higher level.
Their closest competitor on the route is Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha Puja Committee. The 28-year-old puja started working on the nature theme and safety plans for 2013 almost immediately after last year’s festival.
A detailed plan of the available facilities — such as smoke and heat detectors, hooters, medical facility, wheelchair, ramps and a 25-member disaster management team — has been put up for visitors. Some of the arrangements, however, were yet to be in place on Panchami morning.
Golaghata Sammelani has miles to go as far as meeting the CESC The Telegraph True Spirit guidelines were concerned. Crowd management might pose a problem since they were expecting a large footfall in its colourful pandal themed on festivals and wooden dolls.
Senior citizen Shukla Basu was glad there were ramps at Dum Dum Park Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee. “We need them, especially when the crowd swells,” she said after a tour of the pandal.
The theme was a punch of several social issues, including empowerment of women, pollution and child labour, depicted through models and games of chess and snakes and ladder. The organisers have made the best garbage disposal and toilet facilities.
The beautifully decorated Dum Dum Park Yubak Brindo pandal representing a diya has CCTV cameras, cleverly camouflaged by the decorations. The organisers said rain set them back by more than 15 days. Maybe that explains why they were still working on the firefighting and medical arrangements.
Mall Palli Sarbojanin Puja Committee celebrated the spirit of Durga Puja with an eco-friendly pandal but there was a lot to cover to maintain the True Spirit Puja guidelines.
|Dum Dum Park tarun Sangha
In its 34th year, Jadavpur’s Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee Shyama Pally Shyama Sangha is an example of an eco and people-friendly puja. Their Bengal art-inspired pandal has only eco-friendly LED lights while the electric cables are underground and secure. Near the mandap is a bell that can act as a manual fire alarm.
Senior citizens and people with disability can get close to the mandap. “When author Mahasweta Devi came to inaugurate our puja we used our wheelchair to escort her up the ramp,” said joint-secretary Rana Dasgupta.
True Spirit veteran Tridhara Sammilani impresses with social work. The organisers run a clinic round the year with free treatment, medicines and even subsided pathology tests for those in need. “Our puja is secondary; social welfare is primary,” says media convener Gargi Mukherjee. They have introduced a comprehensive accidental insurance scheme that provides any visitor, volunteer, artisan or labourer working on the pandal free treatment in case of an accident at the venue.
Incessant rain has created a new challenge and puja committees have been trying different tricks to make pandal-hoppers comfortable. Dhakuria Sarbojanin Durgotsava Committee, better known as Babubagan puja, has recreated the literary world of children’s literature author Jogindranath Sarkar. But the problem was with the slushy ground. “We have spent a fortune buying silver sand to soak and cover the slush. Hope it will dry up fast,” said secretary Saroj Bhowmik.
Another puja has put gravel and pebbles on its entry and exit points. “Visitors don’t have to walk on mud since thousands visit our pandal during peak hours. It would be total chaos if anyone slipped and fell,” said executive committee member of Jodhpur Park Sarodiya Utsav Anirban Ghosh. The gravel actually adds to the aesthetics of this green puja.
The devi’s Shakambari form has been depicted at the Jodhpur Park 95 Pally Sarbojanin Durgotsav, which has taken particular care in making the pandal colourful and safe, especially in the electricity department. “The recommendations made by the True Spirit team every year push us to keep improving. In effect it is pandal-hoppers who get a better deal,” said president Ratan Dey.
The Puja organisers in this part of town have come up with a wide range of themes: from a temple in ruins to a coal mine to a nostalgic tribute to letters. The hard work, imagination and astute artwork — in most cases with a generous hand from the youths of the locality — are evident. What sets them apart is their adherence to safety measures.
A couple of pujas had most things in place. Others tried but were losing their race against time. Another group did not seem to bother. The organisers in the last two categories, however, blamed the rain for falling behind the “asking rate”.
“It’s raining every day. The paint and the clay models weren’t drying up, the wallpapers were peeling off and even the plaster was taking time to dry,” said Sanat Mukherjee of Kasba Shakti Sangha Pallybasi.
The organisers have draped their two-storey club building in black and divided it into tunnels to give it the look of a coal pit. You walk up and down the stairs of the building which have been integrated as part of the theme. The walls of the tunnels have been done up with black paint on plaster and, of course, coal.
They were not able to install exhaust fans because of the rain-induced setbacks, like the entrance to the mine collapsing two days after Mahalaya. They have yet to put their fire extinguishers in place.
Bose Pukur Road Parijat Club has been fighting similar obstacles. They have a bamboo-themed pandal while neighbours Kasba Renaissance Club is banking on their “terracotta” work on thermocol depicting sculptures from Egypt as well as south Indian temples.
Rajdanga Uday Sangha, who came up with a yajna theme using tiles, ceramic and porcelain had to lay a brick pathway because of the rainfall. In the bargain, they have compromised on displaying emergency numbers, installing the toilets or keeping wheelchairs ready.
The big disappointment was the foregone star of the route — Bosepukur Sitala Mandir. Yes, they were hard-hit by rain as some of their key installations were in the open. They also have a lot of ground to catch up in terms of safety.
It was heartening to see that all the pujas here have concealed electrical cables: wires running underground in most cases.
The clear winners for safety were two pujas. Tangra Gholpara Sarbojonin has combined sree, a colourful decoration to welcome Durga, with tribal art while Purbachal Shakti Sangha has created a beautiful postal theme with stamps, runners and letters.
Text by Rith Basu, Chandreyee Ghose, Brinda Sarkar, Sneha Dutta, Malancha Dasgupta and Trina Chaudhuri
Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta and Sanat Kumar Sinha