Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Durga Puja - A Retrospective

India is a land of culture, religion and festivals. There are numerous festivals associated with different Indian casts, creeds and cultures and most of them are colorful and gorgeous. Interesting thing is that most of the festivals in India are related to any religion. As obvious results people become more passionate about these festivals. The wait starts several months before the actual date. They start preparing foods, new cloths, ornaments and plan for leave from workplaces to just celebrate the festivals which hardly last three to four days.

Durga Puja is just like that. This is actually a Hindu festival mostly celebrated by Bengali community in Indian state West Bengal. But now it is celebrated all over India not only by Bengalis, but also other communities as well.

Let’s have some brief background of the festival. This is actually worshiping of goddess Durga, a powerful Hindu mythological goddess. But now it has become one of the biggest and most expensive events of the world. So, as an obvious reason we must call it festival, not puja or worship. The word worship exists, but within a small part.

The puja happens only four days, but the preparation starts one year before. An idol of goddess durga is made of clay to perform the puja and it is required four to five months to complete one single idol. Several artists in West Bengal state capital Kolkata devote themselves to make the idols. It takes such long time because it is completely handmade with very little help from machines.  Most of the idols in Kolkata are made at a place called “Kumortuli”. This is actually an area in north Kolkata where most of the idol artists live and they are in this profession for several generations.  In earlier days the artists make the idol without any other help. But with increasing number of pujas they hire labors from outside of Kolkata in recent times. As a result the cost of the idols are increasing day by day.

Clay, the main raw materials to make the idols, are brought from outside of Kolkata by boat. After that it is prepared properly with water to make it usable for idols. Many things like bamboos, jute, bricks are also brought for this purpose to kumortuli. All these things compound the price of the idols.

Cell phone of an artist is hanging from the hand of unfinished durga idol

The face of the idol is being prepared. The face is prepared separately with the help of metal mould

A finished durga idol after putting colors and ornaments

Fire lamps which are used almost every household during the festivals,are being colored

Finished idols are lined up in a studio

Coloring of idols is a long process. few years back artists used to color the idols using their hands with brushes, but now for the time pressure they are forced to use automated spray machines. Fire lamps, various decorative elements are also colored along with the idols at kumortuli. 
Various rituals are also performed just before the puja. Pay homage to the ancestors just seven days before the puja is like that. This is called "Tarpan" in bengali. In this auspicious day people worship at riverside. Millions of people gathered to perform the puja. 

An aged woman is being assisted by a priest to pay the homage

A priest with a holy book at a ghat in Kolkata

After that, time comes to bring the finished idols to the pandals.The pandal is a temporary structure where the puja performed. Puja is also performed at temples and personal houses as well. But in most of the cases, wonderful structures are made to house the idols for the festivals. Millions are spent to built the structures and it takes average four to five months to complete. Thousands of painters, artists, labors are engaged for several months only to built the structures.

A traditional idol at a heritage house in Kolkata

Inner decoration of a pandal

Drums are lined up. These are very essential elements of durga puja.

A street food shop. During this time most of the people opt for street food in Kolkata

A crowded river bank during durga idol immersion

A civic body worker is cleaning up the river after immersion

On the last day durga idols are immersed in the rivers and the end of the festival happens. Every year almost same time the festival happens with great enthusiasm. Day by day this festival is getting the great carnival status worldwide and this is not only for the people interest and enthusiasm. It's because more and more corporate houses are getting involved and the number is increasing every year. As a direct result the budget of each and every puja is increasing every year. These corporate houses are coming with different awards and recognition and it's a great motivation for the puja organizers. This festival not only brings smile to the organizers, but also for those who are indirectly involved with it, as an example the rickshaw  puller, street food seller, local item seller, taxi and bus owners and many more. Actually overall market and the people associated with this market get benefited from the festival. So, this is not only a festival anymore. It's a great event of worship, festival, celebration and overall market all together. But there are few grim spots are also associated with this festival as well. Kumortuli, the place where this festival actually starts, is living without basic amenities. Most of the studios are built on makeshift structures made by wood and bamboos. During rainy season they face severe difficulties to protect the idols. Though a permanent building has been made recently to house the idols just few yards away from original area, but it has limited area to house all the studios. Increasing making cost of idol is also a big problem to them. Their survival is in real danger now. But under the light and sound of the festival their problems are faded away. Another problem which is closely related to this festival, is pollution, both sound and water. But, recently kumortuli has started using unleaded color to reduce water pollution and Kolkata Corporation also started a initiative to clean up the rivers just after the immersion few years back. So, as a whole, people are locked into the enjoyment of this great festivals for at least half portion of a year. 

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