A wait for most of us is like a corollary to hope. As an oxymoron, often end of wait not only results in fructification of hope but also it coincides with the climax of a story post which there is nothing to wait for. It is rather the end of a tunnel wherein a new hope, a new story or a new wait restarts. As the noted American novelist, Sharon Creech eloquently expressed in her book Absolutely Normal Chaos - “Then I thought, boy, isn't that just typical? You wait, and wait, and wait for something, and then when it happens, you feel sad.” It’s a similar kind of emotion with Durga Puja every year for us Kolkatans. The wait starts right after the idols are carried out of the Pandals for immersion. The mind literally succumbs to its latent juvenility and starts calculating the number of days left for the Devi to return to Her backyard next year. Its identical with everyone in Kolkata. This can easily be termed as Kolkata’s annual anticipatory sentiment. Yes, Kolkata has its own other yearly landmarks like the Christmas-New Year Week Bash, the Book Fair, the soccer derby between the arch-rivals East Bengal & Mohun Bagan but none can emulate the spectacle of Durga Pujas. It is by far the El Clásico of Kolkata. The festival encompasses one and all, and hence this anticipation runs across gender, age and socio-economic strata. This is what gives this festival a holistic tone, a universal flavour and an endemic following.
As we’ve discussed in my earlier blogs, Durga Puja in Kolkata has definitely become the largest exhibition of popular temporary street art in the world. India, as a nation, can boast of being an extraordinary blend of innumerable traditions, philosophies, ethnicities, etc which a lot of Puja organisers have taken advantage of and, over the years, patronised various Indian aboriginal art forms. They have regularly showcased diverse architecture and art works influenced by multiple cultures from various states of India. One can classify these influences broadly into two categories – Pure Structural Replicas and Conceptual Designing based on several native Art Forms. Genetically, Bengalis have always been a travel-friendly community but only a limited few could actually visit the innumerable landmarks which lay beyond their state boundaries. By recreating such sights & attractions the Clubs touched a chord with all those who did not have the means to travel and experience these wonders at their original whereabouts. Dreary localities of Kolkata metamorphose into provisional facsimiles of distant landmarks and/or even landscapes. A tiny clearing near James Long Sarani in Behala in 2009 mutated into a Jagdamba Devi Temple Complex of the Garhwal Himalayas; in 2008 a queer space near Ultadanga was rechristened into an Amba Mata Temple Complex; a small ground in Putiary was transformed into a Kathputli (String Puppet Theatre) Village native to Rajasthan in 2010; a square at Kasba in 2012 was masterfully converted into an Andhra Pradesh settlement displaying their indigenous Kalamkari Art and Kondapalli Toys; and then there was the Truck Art of the North West Frontier provinces which got showcased in Hatibagan in 2013. The aforesaid specimens are just some of the very few cases where artworks of distant lands have been displayed by various clubs. In this piece, I’ll try and present an assortment of some of the best presentations demonstrating artworks and illustrations from across the length and breadth of our own diverse nation which renders a spectrum of varied cultures.
The deluge of experimenting with different forms of Indian art somewhat started in the later part of 90’s and early 2000’s and ever since numerous specimens of not only common but also forgotten and often overlooked art legacies have been displayed by the organisers to add perspective and merit to this spectacle. The experiments with art forms have become more authentic, detailed and sometimes really complex which take more than 3-4 months to give shape. Bona fide artisans are being employed by Clubs who are imported from native locations to try and add to the legitimacy of the artworks created, thereby sky-rocketing the budgets. But the Barowaris have been particularly bullish about continuing to patronise diverse cultural forms and till now we’ve been fortunate enough to witness some fine samples of creativity from distant corners of India, which otherwise would have certainly remained in obscurity from the eyes of the ever appreciative mass.
Following are some of the handpicked specimens of Indian art varieties…. some lesser known, some popular…. which have been exhibited by various Clubs of Kolkata over the past few years….
Kantha is the predominantly the most popular form of embroidery practiced by the rural women of Bengal & Odisha. This Kantha work was portrayed with a nice twist where the motifs were woven and stitched on a Jute Base. Loved the colours used and the intricacy of the image (top middle) here, depicting Chhinnomawsta (The Beheaded).... Wonderfully Hand-crafted....
Truck Painting and decorating has emerged as a vivacious form of modern folk art in India. Introduced in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the practice has its prevalence in the North Western states of Punjab & Haryana. Each truck is hand crafted using paint and vinyl by skilled artisans. Trucks are vividly embellished with art and symbols that are found to be common across most commercial vehicles. Amidst the eternal trans-border anarchy, Gopal Poddar portrayed this very aesthetically and having always loved kitsch I adored this form of kitschy art form.
Alpana, the form of Rangoli practiced in Bengal, is a natural representation of the artistic sensibility of the people. Practiced usually by the womenfolk of the state, this domesticated art form represents an amalgamation of past and contemporary designs. Alpana Art Patterns was the primary thought behind the conceptualisation of this Puja, embellished with ethnic Rice Milk Chaalchitra Art all over the Mandap.... the bright usage of colours and the uncluttered Mandap caught my imagination....
Cane and Bamboo Craft is a huge cottage industry which serve livelihood for a substantial tribal population of Bihar, Bengal & Odisha. Bamboo split lengthways is made pliable and mad einto baskets of different shapes and sizes in accordance with its usage. Deriving extensively from these Cane baskets (Jhuri in Bengali) woven by artisans of Tamluk in Midnapore, this Puja committee brought together religion and folklore under one roof.... a super work of traditional yet simple art.
The Gond community is Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh’s largest tribes and their art is an expression of their everyday quest for life. Gond Art resonates with the belief that "viewing good image begets good luck". This integral credence led the Gonds to decorating their houses and the floors with traditional tattoos and motifs subsequently transposing onto paper and canvas. Language of the soul is expressed in the brilliant hues of Gond Art. A beautiful Prasanta Pal display based on this folk art bagged them Asian Paints Shaarod Samman for the year.
The waning art of Shellac Dolls of Bengal was displayed beautifully by the creative duo of Anirban Das & Parimal Pal. They were typically found in Midnapore & Birbhum districts made by a class of Hindu artisans called Nuri-s. Shortage of raw materials compelled the Nuri’s to look for other employment when Rabindranath Tagore patronised this art at Shantiniketan and saved it from passing into oblivion. The themes of these brightly coloured dolls included the famed Wheat Crusher (Gawmpeshani), the Horse Rider (Ghowrshawar) and a variety of fruits.
A reconstruction of a state festival which resonated brilliantly not only the local art but the surrounding cultural extravaganza as well. An excellent reprise of Odisha’s Rath Yatra. Impressive Wood Carvings. Outstanding Detailing. Coming of Age of Conceptualiser, Anirban Das. Deserved Winner of Asian Paints Sharad Samman.
Godna (or Godhna) Art is one of the most pioneering yet little known art forms which comprises of permanent ornamentation of the female body with tattoos and is believed to be an adaptation of primitive art. In its current form, Godna images are practised by a handful of women of Jamgala, a village in Sarguja in Chhattisgarh. This art form was brought to life by a brilliant display through Murals and Wall Art. The simplicity of the displays and their effortless amalgamation with the sense of festivity were definitely sights to behold.
Kalamkari Art, Kondapalli toys, metal ware of Pembarthi of Andhra Pradesh were used to decorate the Pandal. Kalamkari art is unique in its use of colour as a medium to portray mythological characters from Ramayana and Puranas. Kondapalli toys are quite pre- dominant in the world of handicraft. Nimble fingered artisans carve with aplomb, as characters emerge and evolve from light soft wood. Pembarthi metal craft is famed worldwide for its unmatched Brassware tradition.
Kathputli Dance is a very popular version of string puppetry in Rajasthan. The marionettes are made entirely from wood covered with cotton cloth and tied with a metal wire which acts as string that passes from the top of the puppet to be manipulated by the skilful puppeteers. This colourful presentation was depicted masterfully with Kathputli imagery and frescos all over the Pandal.