Rainer Schmiedchen, German consul-general in Calcutta
This is my third Durga Puja in Calcutta and I am impressed by how seriously the people take it. At the first puja, Hatibagan Sarbojanin, on the True Spirit Puja route, I asked this old lady who lives next to the pandal what was the most important event in her year. She didnít mention her birthday or her daughterís birthday or the day of her wedding. No, the Durga Puja was the main event for her! That shows how deep-rooted the tradition is and how importantly people take their religious roots.
|(From top) Rainer Schmiedchen, the German
consul-general in Calcutta, goes click-click at the Santoshpur Lake Pally puja; Rainer admires the decoration with wife Annette
and waves to the crowds at Hatibagan Sarbojanin.
Pictures by Rashbehari Das
I loved the horn carvings, especially the giant horn that the artist had carved into a giant bird. That was my first impression. The pandal had two exits on the right and left of the mandap and that looked good. They had proper toilet facilities and medical facilities. I also saw a wheelchair. Their electric wiring looked very good, so I had no real complaints.
The pandal is in a good position so there is no issue with blocking roads or disrupting traffic. Then again, it was the enthusiasm of the audience that was unbelievable. That is something special.
What strikes me most is the involvement of the people in the festival, which is unique to our eyes and experience. It is a piece of history together with a deep-rooted religious feeling. It is a festival for which people go shopping and get some extra salary (bonus) and it is this mixture that makes it so attractive. Of course, combine this with the lighting and dancing and noise and music, and the mixture, as Germans would say, is what makes it special. It is religious, it has a neighbourhood feeling, and yes, there is a commercial aspect too which should not be forgotten, but thatís the way it is.
Also, the spirit of management and caring for the whole community that is shown by the puja committees should be used year-round.
This festival is the highlight of the year, like Fasching in Germany, which marks the end of the winter season, and obviously here it is the end of the rainy season, which makes the people celebrate.
As a garden lover, all the blossoms and the riot of colours at Santoshpur Lake Pally appealed to me. It is something unique that I have not seen in any puja pandal before. They took up the green idea even in the theme. I was very impressed by their fire-safety measurements, fire extinguishers everywhere, toilets clean, and even solar panels. The pandal was also more spacious, so it wasnít cramped and congested.
I loved the decor of the Shibmandir Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samiti pandal, which seems to have an Indonesian influence and one of the organisers told us that the puja committee runs a school in the area, which I think is very interesting.
It is great that the pujas have arranged for wheelchairs or that there are security personnel and volunteers who can help out the people. As a visitor at Santoshpur Lake Pally, I would first approach all those people wearing the yellow uniforms if I needed help and that is great.
You can understand that the people care about the criteria set by CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja and that means that the movementís mission is successful.
Annette (wife of Rainer)
How the organisers reacted to all the questions we asked showed that they were already aware about how to make their pujas safe, happy and meaningful. It means that the movement, after 10 years, has been able to create that awareness and as the number of pujas participating grows that awareness is bound to grow. It matters that there is something that is important apart from the lights and music and festive mood.
I also think that this spirit of Durga Puja should be spread over a longer period so that it keeps the neighbourhood together. Thatís really important.