Durga Puja has evolved over the decades from being an annual religious festival to one of art and culture. This year too, I traveled across Kolkata, pandal hopping from one corner to another experiencing the grandeur of Durga Puja. I marveled at the art on display some of which left me overwhelmed by the sheer creativity and finesse. These are my unmissable 20 Kolkata Durga Pujas in 2017. Every piece of art is a labor of creativity, expression of an idea that can hardly be compared but some of them did leave an impression leading to this list. This 5 day annual affair is a visual treat and all for free and perhaps one of its kind on this planet. I would urge everyone to experience this fervor and grandeur at least once. Mark your calendar for the coming year – Durga Puja will be held between 15th October 2018 and 19th October 2018.
Changing Face of Annual Durga Puja
In the 18th and 19th century, The 5 day Durga Puja was an expensive affair which was conducted by the zamindars and rich business men in the confines of their homes which was attended by others. With the turn of the 20th century the community celebrations better known as “Barowari “ were started generally held by local clubs and organizations with donations and subscriptions raised from people in the nearby areas. The Barowari Pujas were later known as Sarbojonin and slowly increased in number from mid 20th century, The ones with contacts would display a banner or festoon of a local business or print them in the brochure for some additional funding.
In 1985, Asian Paints introduced a competitive flavor in Kolkata Durga Puja with the “Sharad Shamman Awards” rewarding the best Pujas for the all round presentation. This was a marketing game changer as brands realised the effectiveness, reach and visibility during Pujas. With multiple corporate houses, brands and media houses joining the awards and sponsorship fray with mega bucks it slowly transformed into a carinval style art and culture festival. The bamboo and cloth pandals soon transformed into installation art galleries designed on themes and the idol makers took the leap of faith as their imagination took flight to create arty Durga idols. This changing face of Durga Puja has been driven by students of Art who have created, curated and executed these ideas ensuring livelihood for themselves and the hundreds of artisans from the villages who would otherwise abandon these in the hope of earning money through daily labor.
Themes Portrayed in Kolkata Durga Puja 2017
This year Maa Durga came early to planet earth with her entourage but that was hardly a deterrent for the organizers, artists, idol makers to display their best. Durga Puja in Kolkata is the best time to watch installation art themed on contemporary issues. Sometimes the message is communicated through the idols but most times it is about the pandals (canopies) where she is housed which serve as mini exhibitions for lost art, reflections of changing times, burning concerns or a journey down memory lane.
- Global Warming, Nature and Pollution
This seems to have been one of the pet themes this year and I was amazed to watch the myriad representations of depleting green cover, global warming, water conservation, minimizing use of fuel and of course effective recycling.
- Art and Nostalgia
Over the years; I have been overwhelmed at the display of art, some lost and re discovered, a few experiments and a few unique representations. The walk down memory lane with the evolution of music or the modes of communication was a visual treat in a few pandals.
- Human Existence and Harmony
The presentations varied from the beauty of Unified India, religious harmony, inclusivity of differently abled individuals, allowing freedom of expression to children, crusade against child labour, child trafficking and allowing them to grow up in a world without fear
- Large Installations:
These are the Pujas who have remained largely unaffected by the changing times, focusing on large installations of replicas of famous monuments giving the visitors a free tour of a distant land. This year too there was a replica of a palace shown in a movie, Thai Temple, Buckingham Palace and images of US.
10 Unmissable Pandals of Kolkata Durga Puja 2017
The Global Warming theme with the earth on fire and the idol emerging from the deep sea was a treat for the eyes in Abasar
The pandal was based on cycles urging everyone to minimise the use of fuel in Beliaghata 33 Pally almost made me want to go cycling
The colorful pandal portraying the art, culture and monuments of India was a visual journey of unity in diversity in Alipore Sarbojonin
The intricately designed Palanquin in Mudiali Club was a sight to behold
The pandal in Rupchand Lane in Bhawanipore was complete with beautiful Pattachitra Paintings of Durga. The pandal, idol and the execution of art were all women of different faiths who came together to put this together
Kumortuli is the heart of idol making in Kolkata and the Puja Pandal was all about the making of the goddess with mud, frames, brushes, paints strewn all over. It resembled a workshop.
The replica of Thailand’s White Temple was sitting pretty in Deshapriya Park was a visual delight
The neighbouring pandal in Tridhara was made of old packaging boxes promoting the theme of recycling and best out of waste
Ecological concerns projected by Tala Barowari was a journey 50 years into the future if we continue to abuse nature without a care
Nalini Sarkar Street Pandal was a walk through of a ManoVikas Kendra spreading the message of inclusivity and need for kindness to the mentally differently abled. The entire set up was a walk down memory lane with different modes of communication.
10 Unmissable Idols of Kolkata Durga Puja 2017
Maa Durga was holding a weak child in her arms in Nalini Sarkar Street pandal with the message to stand by the weakest.
She had a firm resolve of being in control in Ahiritola
The blooming face of the idol lit up the pandal in Haridebpur Ajeya Sanghati made from all kinds of metal waste.
This is the way I have always imagined her, loved her and prayed to her; the all pervasive powerful one clad in a 22 kg Gold Saree in Santosh Mitra Sq pandal resembling Buckingham Palace.
She had the childlike charm in BakulBagan illuminating the bamboo structure
The carved image in Mahagony wood is a museum piece. A brilliant piece of art from Chetla that needs to be conserved for the years to come.
The kindness in her eyes in Barisha cannot be missed
The simplicity of the idol exuded brilliance in Suruchi Sangha
The beautiful bronze hued goddess in Hindustan Park was beauty personified with a calm and confident air around her
The pure terracotta idols in Prafulla Kanan in a simple village set up amidst the high rises was one of its kind and completely different from the rest.
Durga Puja 2017 Photo Album
Just in case you are interested the complete photo album of the famous and popular pujas held in Kolkata is included in the list.
Pictures of pandals and images of Durga Puja 2017
North: Tala, Bagbazar, Kumortuli, Ahiritola, Hatibagan, Kashi Bose and Chaltabagan
North East: Sreebhumi, DumDum Park, Ultadanga, Beliaghata
Central: Santosh Mitra Sq, Sealdah, College Sq, Mohd Ali Park
South West: Behala, Chetla, Alipore, Haridebpur, Suruchi Sangha
South: Ekdalia, Bosepukur, Hindustan Park, Babubagan, Jodhpur Park, Kalighat, Ballygunj, Bhawanipur, Mudiali, Santoshpur, Rashbehari, Gariahat, Tridhara