Elections over, Kolkata plunges into Durga Puja preparations

With an upward spiral in the scale and duration of celebrations after the COVID-19 pandemic, preparations for puja are now beginning weeks ahead of schedule

Published - July 10, 2024 03:43 am IST - Kolkata

Idol maker Indrajit Pal at work in his Kumartuli workshop. 

Idol maker Indrajit Pal at work in his Kumartuli workshop.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Idol makers of Kumartuli are halfway through their orders, artists are working on designs of pandals, neighbourhood committees are holding frequent meetings — the City of Joy has plunged into preparations for Durga Puja that will take place second week of October, the process having started immediately after elections.

Usually, it is this time of the year — when Lord Jagannath’s rath yatra is held — that preparations for puja formally kick off, but with an upward spiral in the scale and duration of celebrations after the COVID-19 pandemic and with the festival earning UNESCO recognition, work is now beginning weeks before.

“I got my first order immediately after the elections ended. I have got 11 orders this year, and I am already done with the basic clay work. Gone are the days when idols would be placed in pandals just before sashti [sixth of the nine auspicious autumn days when Durga Puja formally begins]; these days pandals are open to visitors right from day one,” idol maker Indrajit Pal said.

What he is mildly upset about is that he is selling his idols for the same price as last year even though the cost of raw material has gone up, according to him, by at least 15%.

“Everything is more expensive now — bamboo, straw, the jewellery worn by the goddess — but customers are insisting on paying what they paid last year. They are my old customers, what can I do,” Mr. Pal, who is proud that this year one set of his Durga idols is being given a Rajasthani look, with the goddess and her children all set to wear Rajasthani attire, said.

Hazra Udayan Sangha, among the oldest public pujas in Kolkata, is all set to reveal its theme for this year’s pandal at an event on July 14. This puja in Kalighat was born in 1946, the year of Great Calcutta Killings (something that eventually led to Partition), when the festival hardly took place in the city.

“These days preparations for Durga Puja begin after previous year’s Diwali. If you want to build a big pandal that is capable of high footfall — necessary to draw sponsorship — then you have to start that early. This transformation for us — from a modest neighbourhood puja to a large-scale celebration — took place in 2021, when we celebrated director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who lived here once upon a time and participated in the puja. This year the theme is — well, that’s a secret at the moment — but the pandal is being designed by a female artist, Suchana Samanta,” Anirban Ghoshal, spokesperson of Hazra Udayan Sangha, said. 

Preparations have begun even in household pujas, where it is more about upholding of the tradition rather than increasing footfall, even though several well-known homes attract their fair share of visitors. “We have finished collecting the five kinds of clay that goes into idol-making,” Archisman Ray Banerjee of Harakutir, a well-known heritage house in north Kolkata, said.

“Our house is 271 years old, but our puja is even older; it took place even in the mud house that once stood in its place for 50 years,” Mr. Ray Banerjee, a Ph.D. student and a graduate of IIT Kharagpur said. “Our idols are made at home, that work will also begin soon after we carry out some regular maintenance work. Even the artisans who make the idols have been associated with the family for generations. This house goes back to the time when this place was still a village called Sutanuti.”

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