Days before the Durga Puja festival begins, a preview show of festival art began in Kolkata on Wednesday, with an opening ceremony at the city’s iconic Town Hall. From a traditional Chhau dance depicting Goddess Durga, her four children, and her battle with the demon, shola art and pat paintings used to decorate pandals were all part of an open air exhibition. The Ambassadors of several countries were present at the inauguration which, along with the exhibition, provides access to about 26 Durga Puja locations in the city, where visitors can take a peek into pandals before the festival begins.
The exhibition has been organised by massArt, a Kolkata-based company, with the British Council as its international partner. The Durga Puja in Kolkata was in December 2021 accorded a place on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
This year, UNESCO has listed massArt’s 2023 preview show of Durga Puja art as part of its 20th anniversary celebration of the convention for the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage to be held in Paris later in the year.
Alison Barrett, Director, British Council India, referred to a report titled ‘Mapping the Creative Economy around Durga Puja’ commissioned by the Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal, adding that it underlined the economic significance of large public arts festivals for artists, artisans, allied industries, and the State. The report, published in September 2021, had estimated the economic worth of the creative industries around Durga Puja in West Bengal at ₹32,377 crore.
The organisers behind the Durga Puja art preview pointed out that the idea behind the initiative was to enable access for artists, people, and international dignitaries to the Durga Puja before huge crowds descend on the city’s streets, making logistics a challenge.
“The main reason for holding the Durga Puja art preview show is to bring attention to the exceptional artwork that has been mostly disregarded for a very long time. We are sure that this year’s preview exhibition of Durga Puja Art 2023 would be more enlightening and interesting for art aficionados,” Dhruvajyoti Bose Suvo, secretary, massArt, said.
Sankar Prasad Sharma, the Ambassador of Nepal, who participated at the inauguration event, said that while there is a tradition of goddess worship in Nepal during this time of the year, Durga Pujas were also being organised in the neighbouring country, influenced by West Bengal. The Ambassador, however, said that the art and decorations displayed in Kolkata’s Durga Puja pandals were unique.
The Durga Puja art preview will also involve pandal tours for the physically challenged, orphans, and members of old age homes. The initiative, which began on October 11, will continue till October 15, before the Durga Puja begins.