For Durga puja this year, south Indian temples have been replicated in Kolkata

The Lakshmi Narayan temple at Sripuram in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, is just across the street from the Madurai Meenakshi temple and some distance further south, one can cross the border into Kerala and see the Kalamandalam in Thrissur.

These spiritual and cultural identities of the South have been brought to life for the residents of Kolkata during the Durga Puja festival.

The Durga Puja break is perfectly suited to many city residents to satisfy their wanderlust. In recent years, hundreds of spectators have started going around long before the festival began, but the crowds swelled outside pandals as ‘Maha Ashtami’ was celebrated on Monday.

One of the pandals that witnesses the highest footfall every year, Ekdalia Evergreen in southern Kolkata sought inspiration from the Lakshmi Narayan temple or Golden Temple. The shimmering gold of the original façade has been replicated in thermocol, but the deity within is not Mahalakshmi.

A short walk away is Singhi Park, where the organisers have been inspired by the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple. The main pandal is shaped like the ‘gopuram’ of the temple even if it cannot match its dizzying heights. The ornamentation of the idols of Durga and her four children are inspired by the artwork of south Indian temples.

Not too far away, the pandal of the Lake Garden People’s Association has not only tried to recreate the architecture of Kalamandalam, but also brought in traditional drummers from Thrissur to accompany your walk through its premises.

But south Indian temples are not the only items on the itinerary — puppet shows from Rajasthan, dragons and lanterns from China and inspirations from the Akshardham in Gujarat have all been interwoven into the ‘themes’ this season.

A trend that began in the 1990s, pandals worked around a particular subject — exotic or abstract — have become the biggest crowd-pullers of the festive season.

Conceptualising a pandal around a theme has now trickled down to smaller localities. A 10-minute walk away from the big-budget fares at Ekdalia and Singhi Park is a small pandal that is inspired by ghosts. Step into the pandal and the visitors are plunged into a room that is pitch-dark with the glowing ‘ghostly’ eyes peering down at you. Besides the eerie sounds playing in the background, visitors pitch in with their own contributions.

A narrow passage leads to the main idol, but Mahishasura is no longer being speared by the Goddess. The demon is dead — a ghost himself — and the cycle is complete.