Mahalaya is on Sunday. Devipaksha starts the day after. Key rituals surrounding the Devi’s arrival and awakening are over a week away. But for Kolkatans, Durga Puja has already started.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee went around on Thursday inaugurating three pujas — Sreebhumi Sporting Club, FD Block Sarbojanin in Salt Lake and Tallah Prattoy.
The Unesco New Delhi cluster director and representative, Eric Falt, is in town and inaugurated a preview show, titled ‘Durga Puja Art’, in which 24 community pujas and two household pujas are taking part. Happy faces dressed in gaiety greeted them at every pandal. Police fought hard to keep the streets clear for VIP movement as curious onlookers thronged pandals. It was Puja come early everywhere.
“The city is enjoying ‘revenge puja’ after two years of Covid, doubly energised by the Unesco inscription (of Kolkata’s Durga Puja on its list of intangible cultural heritage),” said Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita, general officer commanding-in-chief of the army’s Eastern Command, addressing the gathering at Tallah Prattoy, where the preview show was inaugurated.
Seated in the audience, Gargi Ghosh, dressed in red and white churidar-kameez, amid a bevy of women in colour-coordinated saris, could not agree more. “We were sitting at home for two years. This is such a great excuse to deck out and be here at the pandal so much in advance. We deserve a longer Puja,” beamed the 18-year-old.
The advanced onset of festivity was not lost on the foreign visitors for whose benefit the preview show has been conceived as an annual event by massArt. “It is like an early Christmas, a bonus that builds up to the epic event. You get the flavour now and next week will be the full imbibing,” smiled Jonathan Kennedy, director of arts, India, of British Council, which is partnering the preview show.
“We must spare a thought for those who keep the city going, like the police, and the artistes and organisers who worked hard to ready the pandals in time even as we enjoy the extended festivities,” said Tapati Guha Thakurta, the researcher who prepared the dossier that was sent for the Unesco inscription.
Indeed, organisers cannot recall such an early opening to the autumnal event. “The year we had Baahubali as theme, in 2018, the chief minister had inaugurated our puja on Mahalaya-eve. Today is the earliest in our club’s history,” said Dibyendu Kishor Goswami, chief coordinator of Sreebhumi.
Though the club has decided to reopen the gates to visitors only on September 26, he admits that the stream of visitors has already started.
CM’s traffic alert
Last year, the pandal at Sreebhumi had to be shut down after the cops failed to manage traffic on VIP Road. “Sujit you are a minister and the job of a minister is to work for common people. Please ensure smooth traffic movement on VIP Road so people can catch their flights,” Mamata said at the inauguration, addressing minister Sujit Bose, a key organiser of the Sreebhumi Puja.