Little Jharkhand grows in Bengal - Calcutta club borrows Birhor lifestyle for a green Durga Puja

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  • Published 21.09.09
The pandal at Suruchi Sangha in Calcutta. Picture by Aranya Sen

Ranchi/Calcutta, Sept. 21: One has to see it to believe it — a state within a state, a tradition paying tribute to another, tribal Jharkhand sitting pretty in the heart of Bengal.

In its 56th year of Durga Puja celebrations, Suruchi Sangha, a club in Calcutta, is showcasing Jharkhand to highlight its theme — preservation of environment. And right from the pandal to the ambience, everything has been modelled on the tribal way of life. Virasat, a Hazaribagh-based NGO, has assisted the club.

While the pandal has been modelled on a kumbha, the house of Birhors made of leaves and lush green creepers, ethnic Sohrai and Kohbar paintings find place in the interior mandap. The total budget of Puja is Rs 6 lakh.

“Every year, we focus on an Indian state. This time, we wanted to spread awareness about the need to conserve nature. And what other state could be better than Jharkhand, with its abundant greenery and simple tribal life, to express our theme. We went to Jharkhand and did a survey for 45 days,” said Raja Sarkar, an artist.

Justin Imam, also an artist and the secretary of Virasat, said: “The pandal is a dome 30ft in height. Apart from Sal leaves, different varieties of leaves and creepers have been used to create the exterior of the pandal, just like a Birhor kumbha.”

The club sourced the plants from Jharkhand and reared it in a nursery to use them to make the pandal. Shyamal Halder, the in-charge of the nursery, said: “These are various kinds of plants used by the Birhors. Some bear fruits and flowers while others have medicinal value.”

The interior of the pandal shows different kinds of tribal paintings. The lowest layer sports Kohbar paintings in black and white, wherein iconic symbols and aquatic life are sketched with the help of either a broken comb or four fingers. In the next level, cave art, thousands of years old and found at the pre-historic site of Isco in Hazaribagh, have been replicated.

This is followed by a thick panel of dried leaves and then Sohrai painting featuring plant life and animal forms. Dokra art has been used to decorate the ceiling.

“A seven-member team of artisans — Parwati Devi , Gangwa Devi, Jasodha Devi, Rukmini Devi, Sugiya Devi, Malo Devi and Rudhan Devi — along with assistants Amrit and Vishweshwar had gone to Calcutta to do the paintings,” Imam said.

The 14ft idol is made of terracotta and has a golden finish. It is the handiwork of Sarkar and artisan Subodh Roy.

But the charm of the tribal heartland is incomplete without its warrior men and women. Something that Suruchi Sangha has not missed.

“There will also be a fibre statue of Birsa Munda, the great tribal fighter. A fountain-type pedestal has been created outside the pandal where the statue of Birsa Munda will be kept,” said Aroop Biswas, the president of the club.

This is not all. An adivasi village will sprawl out on the premises with small huts and forests. “We wanted to create a complete tribal ambience. Hence, we had tried to replicate a tribal battle scene. Statues of 24 men and women going out to war have been put up on one side of the premises. The sound of drum beats heralding a war will play in the background to add to the effect,” Sarkar added.

The department of tourism of Jharkhand and Jharcraft will put up stalls while the club has roped in a team of about 60 Santhals to perform and entertain the crowd. “Like every year, we are trying to uphold a culture through our puja. The Santhali dance and songs are an integral part of Jharkhand’s culture,” said Biswas.

The club had written to US Consul General in Calcutta Beth A. Payne and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, inviting comments on their environment theme. Both have appreciated the effort.