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ED car, Vatican City & Starry Night — the stuff Kolkata’s Durga pandals are made of this year

Last year, Bengal’s Durga Puja became 1st in Asia to get UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage tag. After 2 yrs of low-key celebrations due to Covid, revellers went all out this year.

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Kolkata: A dummy Enforcement Directorate (ED) vehicle, a cutout of the West Bengal government-run SSKM Hospital, and bundles of cash. The BJP’s Durga Puja in Kolkata highlights the alleged cases of corruption in the state.

As you enter the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre in Salt Lake area, coal smuggling, cattle smuggling, Narada scam and Saradha chit fund scam posters cover the walls. A thermocol cutout of a seized property of former state education minister Partha Chatterjee also stands in the premises. The message? Fighting corruption in West Bengal.

The former minister and his “close aide” Arpita Chatterjee were arrested by the ED in July in connection with the alleged School Service Commission (SSC) scam irregular appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff at government-run schools in return for cash. Arpita was arrested a day after the ED seized Rs 21 crore from her flat.

“We are praying to Maa Durga for those who have been cheated due to the scams and await justice. May Maa Durga help remove corruption in the state of West Bengal. I have also prayed that there be no violence during the panchayat polls next year,” state BJP president Dr Sukanta Majumdar told ThePrint.

Meanwhile, Kunal Ghosh, spokesperson of the ruling Trinamool Congress, said: “The BJP has realised it has no support [in Bengal], the corruption and atrocities against women in BJP-ruled states is all over the news every day. Such gimmicks in Bengal will not cut ice with the people. But everyone is free to celebrate Durga Puja.”

In other parts of the city, the themes of Durga Puja pandals ranged from Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s work, Vatican City, the Supreme Court’s May order upholding sex work as a profession, and post-poll violence.

Also Read: Admit cards from 2016, land documents – Why ED arrested TMC’s Partha Chatterjee in SSC case

Politics and puja pandals

This is the third, and perhaps the last time the BJP is organising Durga Puja in Kolkata, a tradition that started in 2020, just ahead of the 2021 assembly elections. Due to fund crunch, the party has decided to discontinue the puja next year onwards, said BJP’s Majumdar.

This year, the party decided to pick a non-Brahmin priestess to perform the rituals during Durga Puja. And Sulata Mondal is thrilled to have been given this opportunity. Speaking to ThePrint, Mondal recalled spotting senior BJP leaders like Tathagata Roy while she worshipped the goddess.

“Several of those who came to see the puja said they had heard about me in the news and wanted to see how I perform the puja. I am very thankful I got this opportunity,” she said.

At the Naktala Udayan Sangha in Behala area, the puja pandal seems to have lost its glamour this year as its chief patron, Partha Chatterjee, is behind bars. A beautifully crafted Durga idol adorns the pandal. Till last year, the pandal would be covered with posters of Partha Chatterjee, he would release a puja music album and celebrities would be seen there taking photos with him.

Forty-two-year-old Debarchana Ghosh from Garia said she wanted to see if there was something different this year in the backdrop of the minister’s arrest. “I visit this pandal every year but this year, I made a pitstop only to see if there was anything different.”

Anjan Das, general secretary of Naktala Udayan Sangha, told ThePrint that he wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee twice to inaugurate the puja, but did not receive any response. “We wrote once in August and then in September,” he said.

The puja committee claims that Chatterjee’s arrest has not impacted the footfall this year. “Our puja is 34 years old, so we have been celebrating this even before Partha Chatterjee patronised it. We do miss him, but the law of the land has to be respected,” Das said.

West Bengal minister Sujit Bose’s puja at Sreebhumi in Laketown area is the talk of the town. The pandal has been themed around St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, recreated with marble textured walls and European art on the dome under which goddess Durga stands. The line to enter the pandal runs over two kilometers as the young and old wait to get a glimpse of ‘Rome in Kolkata’.

Mamata inaugurated the puja on 25 September and warned the minister to ensure there aren’t any traffic snarls as the road leads to the airport and could inconvenience commuters.

“Sreebhumi creates the best pandal every year. Last year it was Burj Khalifa and this time it’s Vatican. We left home at 7 am to avoid the crowd but it’s almost 11 am now and it’s still packed,” Subhash Das, a resident of Howrah, told ThePrint.

In the Maniktala pandal, Biswajit Sarkar, who lost his brother Avijit Sarkar, a BJP worker, in alleged post-poll violence, has shown Durga holding an orphaned child, the parents lying dead at her feet, soaked in blood, and the demon Mahishasur wearing a green kurta, standing beside the goddess and laughing. A BJP flag has also been kept at the goddess’ feet in the pandal.

“My mother still awaits justice. This year, our theme is post-poll violence. This puja was started by Avijit. He is no more, but we continue to host Durga Puja in his memory,” said Biswajit.

Also Read: Bengal post-poll violence: 70 out of 303 ‘displaced’ people returned home, Mamata govt tells HC

UNESCO honour

During the five days of Durga Puja, Kolkata is dotted with creative pandals and adorned in bright lights. This year, it is even more special as it comes after the state’s Durga Puja was honoured with UNESCO’s intangible heritage tag. After two years of low-key Durga Puja due to the pandemic, revellers have left no stone unturned to visit puja pandals from north to south Kolkata this year.

In south Kolkata, Hindustan Park has recreated Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting, Starry Night. The pandal has been constructed with old jeans and hangers. “We wanted to thank the non-organised sector and daily wage earners, without whom our lives would be difficult. This year, we wanted to give our token of appreciation to the tailors, many of whom lost their incomes due to the pandemic last year,” said Subhash Bhowmik, the organiser.

In Baranagar, Durga has been depicted as a sex worker, wearing a traditional white and red saree, and holding her children. Anjan Pal, the chief puja organiser of Nawpara Dadabhai Sangha, told ThePrint, “The theme this year is parichay or identity. We wanted to bring about a change in the mindset of people when it comes to sex workers. They too have an identity of their own. While the legal battle has been partially won, the stigma continues.” It is also the first puja in the country to use silicon to create the deity.

A silicon Durga portrayed as a sex worker | Sreyashi Dey| The Print
A silicon Durga portrayed as a sex worker | Sreyashi Dey| The Print

Earlier this year, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court issued a historic order that recognised sex work as a profession and said that sex workers are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law. The apex court had elaborated that ‘voluntary’ sex work was not illegal.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: After FIR, ‘Gandhi-lookalike’ Mahishasura at Hindu Mahasabha’s Durga puja in Kolkata gets makeover


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