Thursday, May 30, 2013

Premiere League of Kolkata Pujas and the Rise of the Underdogs

High School and College days bring back so many fond memories for most of us. I’m no dissimilar. It’s that time when your life is at crossroads, and still you are bullish and brawny over what lies ahead however uncertain it might seem. The financial provisions were definitely few and far between, and at the mercy of parents, and yet they were never perceived as hurdles to the kind of pastimes that used to excite us. Those were times of dichotomy where we had already been introduced to the RD Burman brand of cult Bollywood music and at the same time our campuses were reverberating with the renditions of Bengal’s own bards namely Sumon, Nachiketa and Anjan Dutta.  For us, who could get stimulated by both genres equivalently, it was a queer case of Retro meeting “Jeebon Mukhi”….. We were consistently crooning away Kishore/Rafi/Amit/Lata/Asha classics but at the same time basking in the new found syndrome of Bengali commonplace songs and lyrics about everyday life and ordinary people. We were a generation caught in a transitional cusp. The crossover from the teens to early adulthood is itself pretty dodgy…. and with scarce financial resources locking horns with close-to-infinite possibilities of unearthing something new at every step, makes life even tougher. And even at this juncture, standing at mid-thirties with a stable career and a justifiably reliable bank balance, you would still crave to get back to that age of ambiguity…. such captivating was the magic of our high school and college days.

Those days were also about confronting the world at our own terms, without even an inkling of skepticism, of how it may unfold. I’m sure it’s the same with so many of us at the fringes of finishing university and on a career kick start mode. This was also a time when Durga Pujas in Kolkata received a facelift of sorts. A different kind of revamp. Refurbishment in terms of the Puja Map around the city which we had grown up to get acquainted with. Till about this time, city’s Puja Map was plotted by only those Puja committees who were already household names due to the simple fact that they represented huge budgets and uninhibited pomp. The likes of College Square, Mohammed Ali Park, Park Circus Beniapukur, Santosh Mitra Square, Sealdah Athletic Club, Ekdalia Evergreen, Jodhpur Park, Simla Byayam Samity and a few others ruled the roost as far as footfall and recognition were concerned. These Pujas were distinctly mammoth in stature and would almost belittle the other Puja committees by virtue of their monumental pandals, loud illuminations and giant-sized imagery. An expression of Goliath- esque show off, perhaps…. Sadly amidst such, sometimes lewd exhibitionism creativity started to disappear from the Pujas where these Committees had hardly anything new to offer year on year. The pandals, idols and lights became routine and unimaginative. Herein the lesser known Pujas of the city started gaining ground. Some of them adopted innovative themes, whilst others improvised upon either the mandap or the Idol. Most of these Pujas drew serious attention with every passing year. Many of them were from the city fringes and localities which were till that time bereft of any renowned Puja site. Their growing popularity marked the dawning of a new age where a whole new universe of creatively superior Puja committees began to challenge the supremacy of already established band of Barowaris.

Few Sarbojanins amongst the early frontrunners in this “fast catching up” pack were from the Behala zone. For the sake of non-natives, not familiar with the city’s various neighborhoods, I’ve always believed that Behala is the closest of being a “city within a city”. Stretching to around 5.5, in all senses it defies the standard definition of being called a Paara (Colloquial Bengali term for small locality, usually characterised by a strong sense of community). Positioned at the south western corner of Kolkata, Behala had always been a bustling hub and one of the oldest residential areas of the city. Hence both Barowari & family based Durga Pujas have always been an eternal constituent of the residents here. Behala is also home to the Sabarna Roy Chowdhurys, one of the earliest Zamindar families of West Bengal and one of the principal trustees of the Kalighat Temple. Their family Puja initiated by Lakshmikanta Gangopadhyay (Majumdar) in 1610 is the second oldest family Durga Puja of West Bengal. As a result, the heritage quotient of Behala Pujas was always pretty high and never in doubt. Initially the Barowari Pujas of Behala were light budgeted, insubstantial pushovers… but the early nineties saw them finally throwing the gauntlet into the ring where till then only the big dated grand daddies dominated. Post that, through the years Behala Barowaris mustered a meteoric rise in fame, grandeur and ingenious creativity.  This foray into Puja Stardom was spurred by Barisha Sahajatri, Barisha Srishti, Barisha Tapoban and Adarsha Palli Committees who were the initial ones from Behala during the late nineties to be presented with Asian Paints Sharad Samman, the premiere Puja Awards.  Not only did these committees portray Mandaps/Images in a different perspective but they were the leading lights in transforming Pujas into a display of popular art. By the turn of the millennium, Behala Pujas continued to roll out superb creations which resulted both in garnering colossal crowds and drawing critical acclaim from all quarters. The best feature of most of these clubs was the fact that they were new age organizations which were professionally managed and competently governed which went a long way in assuring a steadier approach to planning Pujas. For the very first time two of the strong neighbor Clubs, Barisha Sahajatri & Barisha Srishti, felt the need to consolidate resources in the wake of rising financial and infrastructural demands.  In 2006, these clubs agreed to unite giving birth to Barisha Club, a formidable fixture during the Pujas from thereon churning out some of the best concepts Kolkata has ever seen. Well could I term it as somewhat of a corporate merger… or a brand amalgamation of sorts!!!.... and obviously a clear sign of how Puja governance will unfold in the future….

With the ever incremental reputation of the Behala Pujas, clubs on the bordering vicinities also grabbed this opportunity of attracting the spill over footfalls. Puja committees of Khidderpore, New Alipore and Haridevpur were the principal beneficiaries of this phenomenon as all these sites were enroute to the Behala Puja Mandaps. Suruchi Sangha of New Alipore, 25 Palli & Palli Sharodiya of Khidderpore, 41 Palli & Ajeya Sanhati of Haridevpur were strategically positioned to take maximum advantage of this locational privilege. Gradually, they too developed into formidable entities in their own rights, enough to give the Behala outfits a tough run for their monies. Some of the most astonishing works of art have been showcased by these Committees almost every year thereby carving a niche for themselves which makes them a consistent feature in the annual Puja merit list. Would like to enumerate few of the best displays from the past, which accentuates the excellence exhibited by them…..

Barisha Club (2007)
Barisha Club Idol (2007)
Seeking  inspiration from aboriginal art forms they came up with brilliant imagery and Mandap... this one was made up of ceramic tiles and coloured stoneware... the Mandap was geometric in design with lot of angular shapes.... the image was modelled on Santhal structural motif with Dokra effect colourwise... 


Palli Sharodiya (2009)
Palli Sharodiya Pandal (2009)
Engraved displays on Tin fa├žade was Sushanta Pal's mesmerising effort which fetched him Asian Paints Sharad Samman for the year. Asbestos sheets were used as canopy rendering an unusual effect whereas the entire Mandap and interiors, wrapped in tin sheets, were etched with scenes from Hindu mythology....  

Bandhusree, Silpara (2012)
26 ft. tall Cycle Rickshaw made of Iron Rods and Fibre Glass
 grabbed the Centre stage of the Installation...
Bandhusree, Silpara (2012)  
A Bhabatosh Sutar Installation portraying the cultural connection between West Bengal and Bangladesh. Cycle Rickshaw which is the commonest form of conveyance on both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh borders was the selected icon for the theme.


25 Palli, Khidderpore (2011)
Pandal Interior, 25 Palli (2011)
Prasanta Pal's rendition of the Devi seated in a palanquin was one of the high points of the year. The Mandap in the shape of almost a parabola deservingly drew a lot of praise. Magnificient usage of colors added to the sheer originality of the design.

41 Palli, Haridevpur (2010)
41 Palli, Haridevpur Idol (2010)
Environment Themes have been done to death... what I liked about this idea was the depiction of Durga as the Tree Goddess with her children dolling up her lap, urging to get her attention.... the Idol was also draped in the traditional Red & White to give it an earthy tone....

Adarsha Palli (2008)
Wall Fresco Work, Adarsha Palli (2008)
A brilliant specimen of simplistic art with twigs, branches and barks immaculately arranged to produce amazing fresco works all over the Mandap Wall. Loved the organic colour combo adapting to the original hue of the constituents without usage of any chemical dyes.

Palli Sharodiya (2007)
Palli Sharodiya Pandal (2007)
For people who know me well, I have a penchant for collecting Owls from all over the world and hence this idea struck a chord with me almost readily... The pandal pillars were replica of the famous Bardhaman Owls whereas handcrafted owls from almost 30 countries were showcased inside the Pandal.... a simple yet remarkable effort....


Vivekananda Park Athletic Club (2006)
Vivekananda Park Athletic Club Pandal & Idol (2006)
Bengal's traditional Chalchitra Art was the primary thought behind the conceptualisation of this Puja, embellished with ethnic Rice Milk Alpana all over the Mandap.... the bright usage of colours and the uncluttered Mandap caught my imagination.... 

Ajeya Sanhati (2011) 
Entrance to Ajeya Sanhati (2011)
One of the leading Theme Display exponents of Haridevpur, they struck bulls eye with this novel exhibit. Trinetro (The Third Eye) was the cynosure of the theme with main ingredient being Kajallatas (small eye-shaped pot where women store Kajal). 


Shitalatala Kishore Sangha (2007)
Shitalatala Kishore Sangha Idol (2007),
Asian Paints Sharad Samman Nominee
Peripheral localities of Behala have propped up with really thought-provoking concepts over the past few years.... This one, depicts the "Aanchal of the Goddess" which embodies prosperity, harmony, affluence, knowledge, dominance.... the same Aanchal envelopes the Mandap and all her children who similarly represent the above virtues...

Mukul Sangha (2010)
Glimpse of the Devi, with Vermillion
splattered on the Palette.... Mukul Sangha (2010)
The Committee was brought to prominence by an innovative concept of "Celebration with Colours".... wonderful collage of art created with everything to do with colours, paints, brushes of multifarious sizes and shapes, paint tubes, crayons, etc.... fetched them the Discovery of the Year from Asian Paints Sharad Samman


Behala Nutan Dal (2007)
Behala Nutan Dal Pandal (2007)
I personally believe that Themes used in Pujas nowadays have graduated from mere Handicraft to Conceptual Art..... Rono Bandopadhyay's inspired depiction of a forlorn Durga temple in a deep forest exemplified my observation.... Great ambience, even better execution....

Barisha Club (2012)
Barisha Club Pandal (2012)
A Sanatan Dinda marvel..... 'Shroddha' (Devotion) being the essential theme of the club, the Goddess has been placed under the Shiv Linga. The Mandap is structured around Shakti (Power) where unholy forces are defeated by the flames of Divine influence....

These were some of the very few examples of the superbly handcrafted spectacles exhibited by the Behala Pujas. As time passes, we’ve seen them evolve from mere pushovers to awe-inspiring band of franchisees. They have actually provided an absolutely unique perspective to how Puja creativity has emerged over the recent past. The Premiere League of Pujas has surely livened up with the rise of these underdogs, promising more exhilarating and thought provoking displays every year.  



  1. ---

    Very well written. Excellent...


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