The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A contest that cares


Mudiali Club Durga Puja

Modelled on a typical bonedi rajbari, the structure managed to baffle some of the judges who mistook the structure for a permanent one. In conventional style, the palatial house has been built on a permanent framework of steel and plywood coated with plaster. False verandahs with ornate grilles and grand pillars added a touch of aristocracy.

“The bonedi feel upholds the Bengali culture making the puja look very traditional and rich. But there should have been more viewing space for visitors,” observed Madhabilata Amrita Mitra, Sananda Tilottama 2006.

Medical facilities were up to the mark, with a trained nurse manning a counter that even had an oxygen cylinder while an ambulance waited nearby. The challenged were welcome at the pandal which had a wheelchair to take them up the ramp.

All fears of post-power cut chaos were allayed by the presence of solar lamps which would automatically get switched on to boost the generator-powered lights.

A closed-circuit television kept an eye out for the restless reveller. “This is a professionally handled set-up,” Sujata Sen nodded in approval.

As the judges made the rounds, a row of underprivileged people were seen having a sit-down lunch, topped with bhog. “We always eat here on Ashtami,” smiled Meera, a domestic help.

The smile must have been equally radiant on the faces of those who had received clothes on Panchami.

Reward: Rs 25,000

Reaction: “We have been participating ever since True Spirit started. We won a Consolation certificate some time back and Rs 5,000 last year. We will distribute the prize money among 80 poor students.”


Dum Dum Park club

The Model Puja True Spirit crown is a golden bonanza for the Dum Dum Park club which turns 50 this year.

On entering the pandal, it takes a moment to realise that the entire structure is actually balanced on the surface of a lake, supported by a framework of bamboo poles embedded at the base. It is modelled on a temple in Nepal, which is the meeting place of Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

The ply-and-bamboo pandal faces the figure of the preserver god in anantasajya or eternal sleep. Durga is visualised with three faces here. The liberal smearing of vermilion on the walls of the temple structure is in keeping with the tradition of worship in Nepal. As dusk falls, diyas fixed along the circumference of the waterbody light up. The ceiling, festooned with strings of rudraksh, is an eyecatcher.

The judges were all praise for the arrangements at the venue, Sujata Sen, director, British Council (East India), remarking on the expertise with which the volunteers handled the crowd lining up to catch a glimpse.

“It’s been just about 10 minutes of wait,” smiled a woman standing at the tail of the queue, who visits the puja every year despite the rush.

The pandal has a smoke-detection system, which sets off an alarm. As a further precaution, both the pandal and the visitors are insured. The waste is disposed of twice a day, while drinking water supply is assured by the stalls set up at the entrance, exit and Jessore Road crossing.

“Do you boys participate in sports'” asked Bengal’s last Ranji-winning captain Sambaran Banerjee, drawing a list of inter-club cricket tournament, carrom and table tennis events, which satisfied the sportsman.

But the boys are also men, responding to the call of social duty. “We have donated Rs 5,000 to Ramakrishna Math in Belur for flood relief and sponsored eye surgeries for 37 needy people. This is an economically-backward area. Just before the Pujas, we distributed blankets and saris among them,” an organiser said. “I live close by and see how they work for people round the year,” certified Sen.

Reward: Rs 50,000

Reaction: “The prize money will be utilised to help the needy. We will be giving funds to the Uttarpara Braille memorial school and a school for street children called Banchbo.”

Judges: Sujata Sen, Mati Nandi, Niranjan and Suktisubhra Pradhan, Sambaran Banerjee, Dilip Samajpati, Locket Chatterjee, Koneenica Banerjee, Madhabilata Amrita Mitra


Ramkrishna Athletic Club

Eco-friendliness is the theme for the Puja dream here in Howrah, woven with bio-degradable material. The pandal is a bamboo structure, while the goddess has been kept deliberately plain, draped in a red-bordered white sari. She is worshipped here as nabapatrika, the collection of nine plants that normally stays by Ganesha. A mini-temple is erected in the name of each of the eight plants, with the actual plant in front of the temple.

Durga’s temple here is dedicated to haridra or turmeric, the ninth plant in the collection, and the idol is therefore yellow in hue. The medicinal qualities of each plant are listed in front. “We have looked up Ayurveda books and taken the advice of the Botanical Society. We want to generate awareness about our ancient store of medicinal knowledge,” an organiser said, drenched by the downpour but brimming with commitment. Enough to impress Government Art College teacher Suktisubhra Pradhan.

Fact and fantasy come together as the pandal supports itself against a derelict building, with eroded bricks showing on the framework. The limited confines create potential difficulty in crowd management, but there are special facilities, including wheelchairs for the aged and the challenged. Fire-tenders fed by an overhead tank guard against fire hazards. A first-aid centre and help desk are other precautionary measures.

The judges were only able to catch a quick glimpse of the arrangements on the rain-washed Ashtami afternoon, but they approved of the sanitary facilities, with separate facilities for women. But judge Dilip Samajpati of CESC noted that despite claims of environment-friendliness, one of the structures at the pandal was of fibreglass, which is not bio-degradable.

Reward: Rs 25,000

Reaction: “We are most excited. We had won Three Star status last year and bought books for Friends’ Union Club Library with the funds. We hope to use the prize money this time for the uplift of the underprivileged in the area.”


Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty

The pandal here, based on the Konark temple, is an immense chariot drawn by a quartet of horses rearing their heads skyward. The pandal, designed by Kashinath Pal, is made of ply and embellished with designs that use kitchen ware, including wooden spoons, rolling pins and even traditional kohl-holders.

The lane, lit up along its entire length with chains of blue and yellow bulbs in the evening, creates quite an effect. “These bulbs consume the least electricity,” pointed out an organiser, earning a pat on the back from the CESC representative on the judge’s panel, Dilip Samajpati.

The puja, which has a sterling record in the CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Awards qualifying in the finals for three years on the trot, had put up its traditional fire alarm — a huge bell. If the gong sounds loud enough to summon all and sundry in an emergency, the loudspeaker nearby has a sound limiter fitted on to it.

The nurse was on duty at the medical counter next to an ambulance.

If inflammable materials like ply and bamboo had been used for the chariot that is the pandal, they had been treated with fire retardants first and the agency’s contact number has been displayed for emergency purposes.

There are separate arrangements for those content to view Ma Durga from a distance while those wanting to do so from up close must enter through Vivekananda Park. The organisers have not forgotten the flood-affected in festive times, having just donated Rs 51,000 to the chief minister’s relief fund.

Reward: Rs 15,000

Reaction: “We place the True Spirit Award recognition in high esteem. The amount will boost our round-the-year social work.”


Putiary Sarbojanin

The palanquin, which was the theme of the pandal, traced its journey from the primitive hunters who carried their catch on their shoulders with a stick. But the organising committee’s True Spirit journey started from behind the pandal, where a tin shed housed the electric mains.

From there, the power lines originated, travelling underground for extra precaution. Though a generator was present, the organisers had taken the power supply from two different phases.

Varying sizes of reed sticks were pasted on the walls of the pandal creating a giant palanquin. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Maheshwar idols were carved in wood and reed on the inner walls. “What measures have you taken to protect the pandal from fire since the material used is inflammable'” asked actress Koneenica Banerjee. “The emergency exits are hardly visible; how would the crowd know'” observed Sujata Sen, who found the toilet too dirty for use.

Reward: Rs 15,000

Reaction: “We have been participating in True Spirit for the past two years, when we won Two Star rating. The prize money will be used for club development and as donation to an NGO working for the physically challenged.”

Pictures by Pradip Sanyal, Sanat Kumar Sinha and Bishwarup Dutta


Behala Nutan Dal

A small crowd had already trickled in as the True Spirit team arrived to scan the pandal erected in the middle of a winding lane.

A dimly-lit passage with ancient sculptures of Hindu gods led to the puja. Actress Locket Chatterjee, in an orange and red floral-printed salwar kameez, pointed out the need for more exit points to make it less stuffy.

“It’s a death-trap,” Sujata Sen wondered aloud, as Koneenica, in a white and pink salwar suit, concurred.

Inside was a fisherman’s village — mud-thatched houses, hillocks, boats, a grocery shop, villagers weaving fishing nets, women drying papad on verandah. One side of the pandal resembled a fish market with a strong stench of raw fish.

Sculptor Niranjan Pradhan quizzed the organisers about the unusual concept. “This area is actually a dumping ground. We wanted to make our pandal eco-friendly, so we cleared the place and planted trees… We have arranged for 28 fire extinguishers placed at various points,” said an organiser.

Koneenica liked what she saw: “I love the setting. It is good enough to be used as a film set! I think they deserve due credit for making their pandal so eco-friendly."

Locket decided to join the crowd at anjali, while Madhabilata Amrita Mitra went around observing every detail. “The concept is interesting, but I did not like the idea of tying the hens and pigeons down,” the 24-year-old concluded. The livestock had been procured in end-May and kept with wings tied for a month till they got domesticated.

Thumbs down, on that point.

Reward: Rs 15,000

Reaction: “We will donate the prize money to fishermen of Godakhali who depend on the Hooghly for their sustenance.”

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