A decade or so back when friends would say: “We are going to Calcutta for the Puja”, the Delhites would wonder what the brouhaha was all about. What was this connection between every Bengali and Durga Puja Pandal?
These temporary Hindu Temples come up for nine days in a year and block many roads all over the city causing traffic snarls and packed streets. One wonders, “What’s the rush about?” avoiding the affected streets. Life comes to a standstill specially in the last 2-3 days and even if you don’t step out, your newspaper stops coming, offices close early and the help turn up late or not at all.
The entire close to a million NRI bangla diaspora, seem to descend on Calcutta at this time, along with surrounding villages, taking the population a few notches more than 15 million at this time.
“You must visit the pandals at least once to see the art of Bengal” urged a young Bengali. I could visualize him pandal hopping on a two wheeler with his friends adding to the traffic and then jostling his way through the crowds in sweaty heat.
Amid the surrounding filth of last night’s disposable plates and soda cups, people waddled through to see a glimpse of the structures. Different thematic installations emerged. Some of the lessons are below from visiting a few:
- Recreations: Recreating a building of another city or a temple structure found elsewhere. Calcutta seems to be superb in this. The reverse engineering of temple design.
- Recycling: Used tires. Used medicine boxes. The Calcutta dump itself provides raw material for many structures.
- Sustainability: Straw, bamboo, & materials resembling straw and bamboo, for an earthen feel.
- Sparkle & Shine: Mosaics, Mirrors, Tin, Special effects lighting, colored lights.
- Pomp & Hype: World’s Largest… Biggest… Most expensive…. Gold sari of so many Kgs and Gold ornaments.
I recommend visiting these structures as a part of Indian Design education. The variety of themes, elements, material exploration and intricacy in detail is quite inspiring. The hygiene and man management are two issues which if tackled, could make Calcutta Pandal hopping superlative.