It’s that time of the year again—the devil’s tree is in full bloom, the heady scent of night blooming jasmine hangs heavy in the air, the sun is bright, and the nights are nippy. And in Bengal it means only one thing: Pujo is coming.
Many refer to Durga Puja as world’s largest art installation; others think of it as a 5-day carnival open to all. The festival might mean different things to different people but Durga Puja pandals remain the undisputed pivot around which the festival is centered. While every pandal and idol in Kolkata is unique in its own way, some, over the years have reached an iconic status. Take a look!
1. Ekdalia Evergreen Club & Singhi Park
Started in 1943, Ekdalia Evergreen Club is one of the largest, wealthiest and most popular pandal in Kolkata. Each year, the club replicates one famous ancient temple on its pandal. Its idol meanwhile remains iconic it its own right: tens of feet tall, with a massive headgear, large piercing eyes, and a faint smile, it seems alive. Rich silks, shiny gold and dazzling diamonds make the idol at Ekdalia one of the most expensive in town. It is not only the goddess that enchants you here; with celebrities, film stars, and politicians thronging the place, Ekdalia is the Pujo to be seen at in Kolkata.
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Just a stone’s throw from Ekdalia is Singhi Park, another iconic South Calcutta Pandal. Mostly based on religious and spiritual themes, the Singhi Park pandal is smaller but more ornate. A large crystal chandelier, a high stage and a larger than life idol are Singhi Park trademarks.
This year, Ekdalia promises to bring a Jatoli’s Shiva Temple from Himachal, Singhi Park meanwhile is going to be modelled after Calcutta’s traditional aristocratic pujos.
2. Badamtala Ashar Shangha & Shib Mandir
One of the oldest and most iconic pandals of South-Calcutta, Badamtala Ashar Sangha is a crowd puller. The 80-year-old Puja Committee takes pride in its themes that vary from temples of Myanmar to puppets of Rajasthan. The pandal replicates high-rises from Manhattan with as much élan as the ruins of Bengal. The idols vary too – modern and edgy designs juxtapose against traditional lending it a unique charm. Realistic depictions portray the city’s artistic talent.
Just down the road from Badamtala is Shib Mandir, Mudiyali, another 80-year-old pujo, known for its artsy themes, small but striking idols of terracotta, and folk art inspired pandal. Irrespective of the long queues, Shib Mandir is a must visit for those who prefer smaller neighbourhood style pujos and want to see Bengal’s folk art up close and personal. The theme at Badamtala this year is Bindu.
3. Barisha Sarbojonin & Behala Club
Barisha Club has emerged as one of the most innovative and modern pujos in the city. The theme here varies from abstract to tangible and depends heavily on the city’s exceptional artisans to bring it to life every year. A terracotta pandal made with pipes, lamps, pots, and platters, a gigantic blue shivling; an open air pandal made with dolls, are just some of the innovative themes of the club. Outside, hordes of food stalls, toy sellers and craftsmen set up shops for the swelling crowds that travel all the way to witness its grandeur.
Not very far from Barisha is the Behala Club, another art-centric, much awarded pandal that stuns locals year after year. Pandals shaped like a crystal cave, a depiction of lord Rama & Sita’s wedding in Mithila, a rock cut temple inspired by Spanish architects – the themes here are always innovative, the art always evocative. This year Barisha club is looking at the ill effects of smartphones and brings us the story of the nearly forgotten typists of Calcutta’s business district.
4. Kumartuli Sarbojanin
Come Shashti and the streets of Kumartuli in Old Calcutta transform. Thousands of workshops, that make idols all year round, make way for small and big pandals that celebrate the goddess. The godmakers meanwhile turn into devotees. Kumartuli Sarbojanin has been organizing some of Calcutta’s most innovative and socially relevant pujas for decades and remains one of the most awarded pandals in the city. With the city thronging the neighbourhood to see the kumartuli thakur, the place is always pulsating with people.
Inspired by the Chandrayan mission, Mahakash, or space, is this year’s theme for the Kumartuli pujo pandal.
Ahiritola in North Calcutta takes a leaf from its neighbour’s book and creates fascinating pandals and idols of its own. Themes range from art and environment, to global warming and politics. Outside the pandal, streets turn into food and entertainment zones and are lined with food stalls. Selling everything from biryani to korma, coffee to cola, ice cream to sweets, they are as much a part of the experience as the pandal itself. Whether or not you sample the kormas or indulge in biryani, eating the ‘mishti’ at the centuries old shops here is customary.
Famous for its interpretation of abstract themes, Unknown, is the theme for this year at Ahiritola.