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Powerful messages & true spirit of the deity prevail

The grandeur of Durga Puja was matched by safety concerns and social consciousness

By Sudeshna Banerjee, Chandreyee Ghose, Jhinuk Mazumdar, Shrestha Saha and Anannya Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 10.10.19, 2:03 AM
  • Updated 10.10.19, 2:03 AM
  • 6 mins read
Actress Paoli Dam and Australian consul general Andrew Ford inspect the concrete clutter in Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha’s futuristic vision of the planet. Paoli found the theme of rapid urbanisation very relevant Pictures by Rashbehari Das, Pabitra Das, B. Halder, Shuvo Roychaudhury and Biswajit Kundu

Five Tolly stars and as many envoys went pandal-hopping on Sashthi as they donned the role of judges for CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Puja 2019 in association with LIC, David & Goliath and New India Assurance Co Ltd, with education partner IIHM, radio partner 91.9 Friends FM, television partner ABP Ananda and knowledge partner JIS Group.

Here’s what they saw: 

South Core

The grandeur of Puja was matched by safety concerns and social consciousness in all the pandals on this route. At least one of the judges felt it was a close contest among the pujas.

The first stop was Ballygunge Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity (Deshapriya Park), where the facade of the pandal resembled a chalchitra. The organisers of the Three Star puja had deployed NCC boys for “crowd management”.

At Tridhara Akalbodhan, the theme was “perspective” and the message that impressed the judges was that Durga resides in every woman but one has to recognise it.

The organisers of the Four Star puja prided in the fact that their community work was not limited to the festival.“Every year we support the education of three meritorious but financially weak students — one each in law, medicine and engineering,” media coordinator Gargi Mukherjee said.

As the True Spirit team reached Mudiali Club, at least two women judges pointed at the lactation room. “I have never seen this before. It’s very thoughtful,” said actress Swastika Mukherjee, a True Spirit veteran.

The glitter of glass painting and the use of bangles apart, what earned Mudiali Club Five Stars was adherence to True Spirit parameters. “The cloth used in the pandal was sprayed with fire-retardant chemicals,” said an organiser

Suruchi Sangha, another Five Star puja and the next stop, recreated a “zamindar bari with a thakurdalan”. The judges liked the “theatre-like” use of space where one could go from one space to another while walking around the puja.

“The idol was made with lead-free paint so that its immersion doesn’t harm the environment. We have 36 CCTV cameras operated by Calcutta police and our volunteers. We have installed fire extinguishers and 10 of our volunteers have been trained in their use at the fire services department headquarters,” said Debasis Das, organising secretary at Suruchi Sangha.

South Bypass Extension

An unarmed Durga blowing a conchshell, a Mahishasur seeking redemption and a war against plastic — the stops on this route presented an interesting mix of concepts.

Colours greeted the judges at Babubagan Sarbojanin Durgotsava Committee. The organisers had created an art mela with patachitras covering every wall of the fire-proof plywood pandal. The motifs spoke of peace and harmony.

“Thirty artists from Pingla in West Midnapore, including 14 women, worked on the pandal. It took them almost a month to create the artwork,” said Sujata Gupta, the treasurer of the Three Star puja and the brain behind the concept.

“I like the idea of promoting a community of artists,” US consul general Patti Hoffman said.

The next stop — Shyama Pally Shyama Sangha in Jadavpur — had several awareness placards on water conservation and saving greenery at the entrance. Artist Moloy Roy used environment-friendly materials such as paper pulp, clay, kaash flowers and grass to create a 24ft sculpture representing a mother figure at the Four Star puja.

Nostalgia embraced visitors at the Santoshpur Trikon Park Sarbojanin Durgotsab Puja Committee pandal. The signature tune of All India Radio kept playing on loop and obsolete objects such as gramophones, typewriters, black-and-white TV sets, old models of radios and even switches remained strewn around.

The Four Star puja wasn’t slack in arrangements either. “We have top-notch fire-safety arrangements, including a fire kit, a fire room and trained personnel,” said Uddipta Banerjee, a club member.

The last pandal on the route impressed with its green campaign. The organisers of Santoshpur Lake Pally had waged a war against plastic, noise, air, visual and all other types of pollution through their theme. Models, artwork and used plastic told a dark story of an earth in danger.

The Five Star pandal was a no-plastic zone. The organisers also installed a sound-proof generator. “Visitors will be given their purchases in eco-friendly bags at our stalls,” said Sourav Mukherjee, an executive member.

North Core

The first stop was Tala Park Prattoy, where the theme was Kalpalok or Utopia.

Keeping in mind the true spirit of Puja, the breathtaking pandal was equipped with fire-safety equipment.

“Since we have used a lot of cloth, we carefully washed everything with fire-retardant liquid,” said Samik Saha, marketing convener. The Four Star pandal was equipped with 70 fire extinguishers, 10 fire balls, fire modulars and more.

The next stop was Lalabagan Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity, which addressed the growing number of suicides in the country. “We have been three-time winners of True Spirit with three, four and five stars. We always ensure the prize money goes towards charity,” said Partha Ghosh, joint secretary and conceptualiser of the Three Star puja. The crowd management got a thumbs-up from Raima Sen.

The small and simple Tekiapara Sarbojanin Durgatsav Committee, in its 115th year, had a well-equipped first-aid counter, a baby feeding area, a senior citizens’ seating area, wheelchair provisions and washroom. It got Three Stars.

The eco-friendly pandal at Chorebagan Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity provided the perfect wrap. Over 15 lakh dried dhudhul flowers were used to create the inside of a lava-spewing active volcano. The pandal immersed in fire-resistant lacque got Five Stars. A fireman hook, fire beater, fire blanket, fire balls, first-aid provisions, safety jacket and boots, smoke alarms and CCTV cameras were all there. “We had provisions for four emergency exits for easy evacuation in an emergency,” said general secretary Jayanta Banerjee.

Main Bypass

The TSP convoy at Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha were greeted with booklets that had Ma Durga wearing a face mask.

In artist Rintu Das’s dystopian vision, a giant sandclock at the entrance reminded one that time was running out for the planet. An inner slice of a hemisphere showed greenery being taken over by a concrete jungle of apartments. Inside an old mansion set to be promoted, the thakurdalan still stood for one last puja before the demolition. In the final section, an intensive care unit was set up where a dying tree lay. But hope, in the form of a sapling, sprung from it.

The puja had eight CCTV cameras keeping watch over the crowd while two submersible pumps stood ready to pump water up to a height of 60ft from four hosepipes, the reach covering the top of the pandal. The puja had a tie-up with St Joan’s Ambulance Society for its first-aid booth and the club’s own ambulance was ready to be pressed into action, if needed. There was generator back-up too. Only the plaster of Paris coating on the barks of the trees at the entry drew a frown or two. The puja impressed enough to earn a Five Star rating.

At the neighbouring Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra, another Five Star puja, the first segment had yantras or specific geometric shapes, meditating on which could help attain the power ingrained in it.

The organisers had put up a lightning arrester and designated an assembly point for emergency evacuation. With local resident and puja committee member Swati Dhar being a fire safety professional, the puja had set up a mini fire-fighting station under her guidance to draw water from a pond about 50 yards away.

The judges received a warm welcome at Masterda Smriti Sangha in Kestopur. Women and kids showered them with petals, conchshells were blown and a community feeling prevailed. The puja themed on man chasing worldly desires got Three Stars.

Another Three Star puja was Telengabagan Sarbojanin. Efforts to help 20 bright underprivileged children by sponsoring their textbooks and holding a coaching camp impressed the judges. They also hold blood donation camps twice a year, including once in summer when supply runs dry. Clothes were also distributed among the poor.

The fifth puja on the route was Ashwininagar Bandhumahal Club that used wire as the main item of décor in a pandal on the diverse culture of India, specifically Bengal. It got Three Stars.


41 Pally in Haridevpur traced the evolution of dissemination of news with the help of an eco-friendly cloth-based material from Bangalore, which was used to make models of ships and birds. The Four Star pandal had fire extinguishers and water hoses, an emergency clinic, a feeding room, a first-aid counter, a water-treatment plant, washrooms, CCTV cameras and inverters. The diagram of the electrical circuit in the club scored with judges.

Ajeya Sanghati had parampara as its theme. The look and feel of the pandal was earthy with focus on the tribal art form of Sohrai from a cluster of villages near Hazaribagh in Jharkhand.

“A 2,000-litre tank for clean water and an insurance cover for visitors in case of any mishap on the pandal premises are our highlights,” said Arijit Nandi, joint secretary of the Three Star puja.

Model puja Thakurpukur State Bank Park Sarbojanin married art with functionality.

“Safety is important, so we have gone all out with it. We have separate washrooms for men and women and ones accessible to disabled visitors, a well-stocked clinic, 17 CCTV cameras, fire safety gear, an ambulance and a rest room for senior citizens,” said Ajoy Majumdar, secretary of the committee. Also spotted were a bed in the infirmary for minor procedures and an inverter van.

The last stop was Sabarna Para Barisha Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samity, where the pandal was built as a tribute to the farmers and showed the agricultural transition over time.

“This pandal uses a lot of dried grains and plants. But keeping safety in mind, we sprayed everything with fire retardants,” said Pulak Chatterjee, the president of the Four Star puja. The club also had medical facilities, wheelchairs, fire extinguishers and security measures in place.

Reporting by Sudeshna Banerjee, Chandreyee Ghose, Jhinuk Mazumdar, Shrestha Saha and Anannya Sarkar