Oct 25, 2010

Festivities of old with a modern twist - Design, Art, Creativity

Each year, in the Fall, the city of Calcutta (Kolkata) dresses up with lights, decorations, and massive exhibits of innovative art and creativity.  The occasion - Durga Puja.  For those that are not familiar with this religious festival, it holds the same importance for Bengalis as Christmas does for Christians.  However, the festive element reigns supreme in this case - food, color, lights, music, rythms of the drums (dhak) and the long lines of people waiting to see the explosion of artistic brilliance.  

The city becomes host to not only its residents but millions of people who visit from neighboring cities, towns and villages!  Durga Puja is called a religious festival but it's more a festival of art these days with a religious element added to it.  In short, according to classical Hindu mythology, Durga, the goddess of power, was created by all the other Gods, to vanquish the demon, Mahishasura, who was wreaking havoc on the earth and the heavens.  Aided by the 10 weapons provided to her by the Gods, she finally destroyed the demon.  

Goddess Durga personifies Power and Motherhood.  She is also a daughter, and when the autumn harvest is reaped, it is homecoming time for the daughter Durga with her four children.  The vanquishing of evil and the return of a married daughter to her home were the two elements that were celebrated through Durga Puja.  In the old days, once a woman got married, she was rarely allowed to visit her paternal home until this one time in the year.

I thought a little historical background would be helpful to set the context but what I wanted to write about is how over the last 15 years or so, this Puja (religious offering/ceremony) has evolved into a forum to showcase amazing works of art throughout the city of Calcutta, only to be dismantled at the end of the 5 day celebrations!  The usually less flamboyant and subtle city becomes radiant and bold during these celebrations and shows off it's artistic heritage.

In various areas of the city, structures called "Pandals" are built to house the deities that are made in a specific area of the city, known as Kumortuli, where artisans have been making the idol statues for generations.  The skills of these artisans are amazing!  It takes months to create the idols.
The pandals are usually made from cloth, with a bamboo infrastructure, and illuminated heavily.  What is amazing is how creative and innovative the designs have become over the years where building the pandals is concerned.  A theme is chosen for each location and executed with perfection.  Structures resembling renowned architectural wonders of the world, or important buildings are built with precision, only to be dismantled at the end of the festivities.

The current themes have also incorporated eco-friendly measures where reuse and recycle is the theme that pervades.  Structures made from torn towels, works of art made from baskets and buckets, and many more can be seen.   I've seen entire pandals made out of seashells and conch shells or cockleshells! 

used baskets and buckets 

made from torn towels
Now, why doesn't the government build a fabulous museum to house the best of these artistic endeavors after the celebrations each year?
concept: We play with puppets as children and then ourselves become puppets in the hands of life! (Made from clay pots)

Readers, if you're ever in India in the Fall and during the Durga Pujas, Calcutta is where you need to be! It'll be an experience of a lifetime.
Special thanks goes to my dear friends who live in Calcutta and have shared their experiences and festivities with me via these photographs.