Evolution of Barowaris and My Love Affair with Park Circus.....
A little less than three weeks to go before utter mayhem takes over Kolkata and although being 33, I still get those juvenile goosebumps when I see this autumnal conundrum completely taking over our 350 year young bustling metropolis. From what I've observed in the past 20 years or so, the spectacle has been swelling by leaps and bounds in terms of plain manifestation of Bengali ethos. Durga Puja has now become an institution by itself. The transition from a confined ritual to a cultural behemoth took ages, but it was obviously worth the wait.
My tryst with Durga Puja started early... during my junior school days, to be precise. My school was generous enough to offer a pretty lengthy mid-year vacation during the Pujas. Little was I aware then, that it wasn't a Puja vacation in actual sense of the term.... those were dark 30 days before the dreaded Half Yearly tests which used to be the most gruelling of exams... our school had designed it that way to give the poor kids a reality check before the end-of-year battle royale. To this day, though, this hasn't quite found a proper rationale from my end. The tests were even more gruelling as they came back to back with four days of Puja carnival. We hardly got any time to savour the hangover of Pujas. I've seen some of my lesser fortunate bookworms put in their hard strides even during the Puja days. Well, my fate wasn't that bad. For me, there was this leeway of "no studies" which I humbly earned by slogging my butt out till about Shasthi. This used to attract a lot of flak from my contemporaries studying in more posh Catholic schools who's Puja holidays were restricted to just a week or so. I did not mind much. I was winning at something, at least. It became the first instance in my life that I felt that Pujas were my days of redemption.
Ekdalia Evergreen Pandal, under construction (2007)
The route to my quaint South Kolkata school from where I used to stay at Park Circus took me through the hustling commercial market area of Gariahat. For people not familiar with Kolkata, Gariahat has been a Mecca for the middle class bargain hunter who at that point could not afford the plush Park Street or New Market but still had the taste and finances to support limited luxuries. This was also a locality which was home to Ekdalia Evergreen.... a Puja Committee which was almost like a benchmark of pomp of Kolkata pujas, courtesy huge budgets backed by a certain Political heavyweight.... the name of the Club was probably derived out of the politician's lively and effervescent countenance, or so I would wonder. In those days, the preparations of this Mandap began way before anybody else, thereby imparting the spirit of the festival pretty prematurely...
Ekdalia Evergreen Idol, by Sanatan Rudra Pal (2011)
The philosophy behind the plot was simple and consistent over a long period of time.... construct a soaring gigantic tower resembling some Indian temple or edifice and plaster the road with garish Chandannagar Lights... add to that Ramesh Pal's brilliant traditional idol and a giant chandelier adorning the interiors. Ekdalia Evergreen was a blockbuster every year.... a true testimony of how the modern Sarbojanin had evolved. The picture above, taken in 2007, is an apt example of how Ekdalia Evergreen mandaps were created keeping all the above features in mind. They've perfected the art of exhibitionism.... you would never dare to ignore them. I did not. In our adolescence, when our parents did not allow us to venture out during late evenings and nights, Ekdalia Evergreen was our first daytime Puja hangout. But with passage of time and the ever increasing turnout, we were almost shoveled out of here, never to return though Ekdalia Evergreen continues to be one of the most attended Pujas of Kolkata in terms of all authentic statistic. It is still the unheralded king of modern Barowaris.
Park Circus Beniapukur Pandal (2008)
Park Circus. The neighbourhood I grew up in. Located virtually at the heart of the city, the only drawback was that we were sometimes caught in the crossfire whenever there was any debate about the culturally rich, orthodox North and the new age, avant-garde South Kolkata. I will not venture into this ancient arguement either. Park Circus Maidan was like a sprawling oasis in our concrete jungle and this humongous green patch was the cynosure of pride for all the locals. It provided solace not only for sore eyes but also for thousands of residents of this locality in terms of a playground, joggers' track, uninhibited jaywalking, lovers' nook and various forms of entertainment round the calendar like circus, flower shows, multifarious exhibitions, etc. But the icing on the cake, understandably, was the Park Circus Beniapukur Sarbojanin Durgotsav.
Park Circus Beniapukur Idol (2009)
This was the Puja, which has become almost like folklore to me, with all immediate predecessors of my family associated with this Puja committee in some nondescript role or the other.... because any thoroughbred Park Circus resident was decreed to be a part of it, hence they had no choice. The Idol I've grown up with.... the Durga image with which I've been associated with since time immemorial by virtue of staying right next doors... the shot above was in 2009 sculpted by the multiple National Awardee, octogenarian Ramesh Pal, it still is one of the finest images of Kolkata. Though this was peculiarly unlike the other Sarbojanins of the city where since absolutely no subscription was collected from the local residents, the funding was entirely accumulated from the proceeds of the Mela (Fair) that accompanied the festival and ran for around couple of months. So it was kind of the first sort of corporate Puja of the city where major emphasis was on garnering sponsorships rather than petty donations. The organisers realised very early that this Puja offered a unique platform for all those commercial bodies who deperately desired to attract eyeballs for their products. This practice has now become a norm for the modern day Committees.
Unfortunately, I've moved out of my beloved Park Circus but its shadow still looms large and no Durga Puja is complete without putting my foot on the Maidan. Ramesh Pal has been substituted by Sanatan Rudra Pal.... Delhi Chat House still fascinates my taste buds.... Mahashtami Anjalis will never be the same again, where Birendra Kishore Bhadra's chants wove a surreal ambiance.... 70 years have passed and Park Circus Puja has definitely carved a niche for itself, which according to me would surely remain a marquee Puja landmark for many years to come.
My Puja Parikrama commenced from Park Circus as it had provided me with the craving to see more... explore more... learn more.... and for me Park Circus Beniapukur Durga Puja has earned its rightful status as an annual pilgrimage. For the archetypal Durga Puja of Kolkata, it has traversed a long journey and has now ultimately developed into a Magnum Opus from mere Sarbojanins.....