The participation of foreign envoys in Durga Puja festivities in Kolkata saw a new upsurge on Thursday with the arrival of U.S. Ambassador to India Keneth I. Juster in Kolkata late on Thursday evening. It is not only Mr. Juster, but nearly all major Consulate and Deputy High Commission offices are participating in the Puja and see it as an opportunity to enhance “cultural ties with eastern India.”
The schedule of Mr. Juster, shared by American Consulate office in the city, did not highlight any political meetings. On Friday, the U.S. Ambassador will be inaugurating a Puja in Salt Lake’s FD Block followed by visit to three pandals in the city on Saturday.
“Ambassador Juster will be in Durga Puja festival in Kolkata for the first time and looks forward to experience the cultural extravaganza, which reinforces the importance of connecting with people irrespective of caste, creed and religion,” a statement by U.S. Consulate said. This is the first time that an Ambassador from a country is visiting the city to exclusively participate in the festival, a term often referred to as “Durga Puja diplomacy.”
Not far from FD Block, the Chinese Consulate is associated with the Puja celebration at a pandal at BJ block for the first time; 39 artists from China are likely to arrive in the city and perform at Durga Puja pandal from October 13 to October 17. Among the performances lined up are a Golden Peacock dance by 10 dancers, the Jasmine Flower dance and traditional martial arts and elephant foot dance with actors and artists assembling in Kolkata from various parts of China. Keshari Nath Tripathi, the Governor of Kolkata, and Chinese Consul General in Kolkata, Ma Jhanwu will inaugurate the Puja on October 13.
The Consul General of France in Kolkata Virginie Corteval, along with a heritage group, will visit to a rural Durga Puja at Usti in State’s South 24 Parganas district. A French artist Mireille-Joséphine Guézennec artworks on Durga Puja celebration will also be on display at Indian Museum from Friday. The exhibition Homage to Great Goddess Durga is the artist impression of the festival.
For Bangladesh, almost all the members and their families can be located in various pujas in the city, the Deputy High Commissioner Toufique Hasan will be visiting particular pandals. The achievement of Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, however, is elsewhere in this puja.
"We have issued visas - many a times more than previous years - during this puja to the Bengalis and Indians to visit Bangladesh to experience Durga Puja in our country. People from all age groups and variety of professions reached Bangladesh to witness puja," said spokesperson Mofakkharul Iqbal.
Meanwhile, the British Deputy High Commission in Kolkata had organised a dialogue between the Puja organisers in Kolkata and UK in the last week of September. Bruce Bucknell the British Deputy High Commissioner is getting several invites from Puja Committees in the city.
”I would be visiting pandals in Kolkata during Durga Pujo. I would be particularly interested to explore pandals that have a UK connection in terms of theme, décor etc. Durga Pujo is also that time of the year, when I get to interact with lots of Probashi or NRI Bengalis who come to visit Kolkata from the UK.” Mr Bucknell said.
At the beginning of the festive season, representatives of half a dozen Consulate offices in Kolkata took a boast ride to Kumartuli, the potter’s colony in north Kolkata to mark the beginning of the festival. This included representatives of Consulate of US, France, Germany, Japan and UK.
The representatives of the consulates will meet again on October 13, when a Puja Parikrama (tour) is again being organised by the West Bengal government and the Kolkata chapter of Indian Council of Cultural Relations. “The representatives of Consulates will meet at ICCR office and have plans to visit the residence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and participate in Puja Parikrama across the city on October 13,” Gautam De, regional director of ICCR said. All other Consulates with lesser presence in east India are also participating in the carnival.