PHOTOS: Recreating Bengal's Durga Puja splendour in Delhi
New Delhi: A towering Buddha sculpture greets visitors to a Durga Puja pandal in central Delhi's Arambagh locality, which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year.
Created by Kolkata-based sculptor Guranga Kuila, the 16 feet tall and 12.5 feet wide sculpture has been fashioned out of brass replicas of items like leaves of the mango and bael leaves, diyas, brass water vessels - all traditional offerings
to the Goddess Durga.
The idol of the goddess itself, a monumental 20 feet high and 26 feet wide has been transported to Delhi from Kolkata where it was handcrafted with seven types of clay by sculptor Pradeep Rudrapal, who has earned fame for his spectacular idols.
"It took four trucks and over 7 days to transport the idol from Kolkata. Over 45 labourers helped carry it to the stage where she will be worshipped during Durga Puja celebrations," says Shanker Chakravarthy, a member of the organising committee.
While with an estimated budget ranging between Rs 75 lakhs to Rs 1 crore, the Arambag committee wants to make this year's celebration special. Former President Abdul Kalam inaugurated the Buddha-themed pandal late last evening.
Other Durga Puja committees in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) area, which is estimated to number over 800, are also geared up with special themes and festivities. Most have roped in artists from Kolkata who park themselves in the city months ahead of the festival.
"There must be more than 1200 pandals in Delhi and NCR," says Chakravarthy.
For Vishvajit Pal, a sculptor from Krishnanagar in West Bengal, the days leading to the Durga Puja are quite busy.
Pal, who has been making idols for the past 30 years has been coming to Delhi since the past 9 years. At the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti, he is overseeing preparations for at least 10 idols that will be dispatched to various committees across the city.
"For the idol I mainly use a mix of two types of clay from the Yamuna and brought from Haryana. The sediments are big so
the resulting mixture is not as smooth as the one we make in Bengal. For ornaments we use zari shells and paper," says Pal.
One of the idols is for the Kashmiri Gate Puja Samiti, which hosts the oldest Durga Puja celebration in the Delhi and NCR region.
"Our puja turns 104 years old this year. We maintain the old style followed by gererations and seldom deviate from tradition. The idols of the goddess and everything else is created in the traditional style," says Barun Mukherjee, President, Kashmiri Gate Puja Samiti.
Mukherjee, who has been associated with the Puja since 1955, says many founding members have grown old and moved away but still ensure they visit it every year.
"Ours is the only puja where the lion, the chariot of goddess Durga is white. I dont think anywhere else you will find a white lion, all others are some brown colour," says Mukherjee.
On concluding day of the Puja, when the Goddesss is immersed, the Kashmiri Gate samiti members use a bullock cart to transport. "Everyone uses trucks but we still continue to use a bullock cart," Mukherjee says.
Kashmiri Gate, Karol Bagh, Kali Bari and Timarpur count amongst the oldest Durga Puja Samitis in Delhi.
The Tirmarpur Samiti is celebrating its 100th Puja this year, and the others too are more or less in the same zone.
As per mythology, Goddess Durga accompanied by her four children descends to the earth every year to visit her parents and slay the demon Mahisasura, the epitome of evil.
"Everybody is happy and when a daughter comes home she is welcomed by her parents who prepare all sorts of special dishes. So the days of the Puja we have many dishes. The crowds that throng the pandal are huge, running into lakhs and we endeavour to feed all of them and never normally run out," says Saraswati Charkarvarty fo the Arambagh Puja Samiti.
Saraswati, points out that over the years the scale of the pujas have also grown in scale.
"There is a huge difference now. Nowadays, with announcements of prizes organised by various newspapers and others there is so much competition to make the best idol, and pandals," says Saraswati.
Gouranga Kuila, an acclaimed handicraftsman, has crafted the Buddha idol for the Arambagh puja says the pandals in Kolkata have been incorporating grand themes over the years.
"This year I have worked on 400 pandals. One of the best is a pandal in south Kolkata where elephants, fish and birds carved on wood flank the Goddess," says Kulia. Stage design and lighting are other components for a Puja Pandal.
The Arambagh Puja Pandal reflects a Buddhist monastry with interiors reflecting the nine faces of the Durga. It sports a
28 feet chandelier made out of 400 light bulbs.
"Our motto is to crate an experience of the grand festival that every Bengali has experienced in Kolkata.We want to
showcase the grand Kolkata Durga Puja," says Abhijeet Bose, President, Arambagh Puja Samiti.
Besides the Pujas organised by various committees there are those which take place at home and have history attached
Home to a majority of Bengalis in the city, Chittaranjan Park houses many home Durga Pujas namely those conducted by Mukherjees, the Homchowdhuries as well as the Guharoys
"Our puja is over 200 years old and was started in Bangladesh before the Partition. After the partition we tried to conduct the pujas in Bangladesh but due to security reasons we had to shift them to Kolkata in 1946. Our family then shifted to Delhi in 1992 and since 2002 we have been performing Durga Puja every year," says Santosh Kumar Mukherjee, the head of the Mukherjee household Puja.
The smell of insence burning, the purohit chanting mantras of Maha Sashti and the fresh smell of Bhog (Prasad) seem to
provide a perfect backfor a homely Durga Puja.
"I can vouch that our Bhog is famous in the para (area). On all the four days starting from breakfast to dinner we feed
almost 300 to 400 people. We shifted to Delhi in 1958 and just 6 years back we started the pujas," says Sati Homchowdhury, who head Homchowdhury's household Puja.