Durga Puja and the Evolving Festival
Your feather touch
Across the dimensions
Of space and time
This autumn eve
The feel of You
Waft all over
In pristine white….
Then a golden hue
In a golden orb
Bursting with life
The feathers dance
To the music
As the lights changes its hue and we see the kashphool bursts in the fields, we get ready to welcome Autumn in Bengal. Autumn or “Sharat” that’s brings with it the most spectacular “Sharodotsav” and Durga Puja.
Durga Puja is possibly one of the oldest and the largest organized festivals in Bengal. However, the origin of public celebrations of grand Durga Puja can be traced back to the 16th century.. Grand celebrations, gala feasts and huge fan fare was part of the very first ‘Sharadiya Durgotsab‘ festivals organized by Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur and Bhabananda Mazumdar, ancestor of Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia in 1606.The Sabarna Roy Choudhury family has been celebrating Durga Puja since 1610 in their ancestral home at Barisha. In Kolkata Raja Nabakrishna Deb started the Puja in Shobhabazar Rajbari in 1757. He set a pattern for the puja, amongst the Bengali aristocracy
Durga Puja was initially celebrated by affluent families of Bengal. But soon the festival was democratised with the advent of “Baroyari Puja”.
The term “Baroyari” is derived from “Baro” and “Yaar” meaning a group of twelve friends. Guptipara in Hoogly was the first place in West Bengal where the idea of “Barowari” Puja was conceived in the year 1790. The first Barowari Durga Puja of Calcutta was organized by the “Sanatan Dharamatsahini Sabha” of Behala, Shakher Bazar. With time, the Barowari Puja came to be known as Sarbojanin Durga Puja, which was organized by the common people, for the common people
Over the years, it’s obvious religious significance aside, this festival has evolved into as an extremely important socio cultural event with a carnival spirit engaging people across different religions and classes in a celebratory mood.
This public involvement that transcends the mere religious aspect.
From pooling in money to organise the para puja, to employing men and women of all religions in the creation of the spectacular artistic installations, this dynamism associated with the “Sharadiya Durgotsab” is indeed important. Infact the bustle of artistic activity around the “devimandap” , a ceremony of artistic expression has almost become a naibedya or holy offering to the Goddess.. From the traditional artisans of Kumartuli and Ghurni where the aesthetics and craft has been passed through generations to art college graduates with a name and signature to even established artists like Sanatan Dinda have all partaken in this great festivity. Most of the artists view this as an opportunity to engage with a wider viewership compared to the limited space that a gallery or museum has to offer. There is always a rush to catch the creative art decorations of Shri Bhabotosh Sutar and Shri Sushanta Paul.. Many will throng to see Sutar’s work at Arjunpur Amra Sabai Club and Sushanta Paul’s work at 95 Pally Jodhpur Park and Tala Prattoy this year..
In fact this year WATconnect, an initiative from World Architecture Travel (WAT) in collaboration with massArt plans to showcase the art, architecture and local economy aspects of the Durga Puja and invite people to attend a preview show that will showcase the twenty most innovative and best of Durga Puja art installations in the week prior to Mahalaya
Another unique feature this year is the “Thakurbarir Sharodotsav”
The cultural and artistic part of the Durga Puja has for years been an essential attribute to our Puja celebrations. This year the Pathuriaghata Tagore family opens its doors to a unique celebration where the Goddess will be worshipped through performing arts. The Thakurbarir Sharodotsav will feature Bengal in its cultural essence on all four days of the Durga Puja. From “Pattachitrer gaan”, “Baul sangeet”, “Kobir larai” and “Nrittonatya” this is an unique festival of arts, as an invocation to the Devi, an “Anandajogyer Shilpanjali”
As we all know this year
Durga Puja has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As they have mentioned “The worship of the goddess then begins on the inaugural day of Mahalaya, when eyes are painted onto the clay images to bring the goddess to life. It ends on the tenth day, when the images are immersed in the river from where the clay came. Thus, the festival has also come to signify ‘home-coming’ or a seasonal return to one’s roots. Durga Puja is seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as a thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers. The festival is characterized by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the goddess. During the event, the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations”
Art and aesthetics cannot just be limited to the visual, it carries within it a voice and a responsibility. Art forms like poetry, novels, songs and, of course, pandal decorations bring to light the various issues that may be present in our society. For example one year the Dum Dum Park Puja committee organized a LGBTQIA+ themed puja Their theme was stated as “Tumi dekho nari purush, ami dekhi shudui manush” (you see women and men, I see only humans). Not only did they have an idol which was half female (Durga) and half male (Krishna), they decorated the pandal to showcase the pain of being in a closet or being discriminated against for not being cis-gendered or straight. Another year Beleghata 33 Pally Durga Puja committee, decided to play the Azan (a form of a Muslim call for ritual prayer) in their pandal.
And so, We the People of Bengal continue to use religious ceremonies to raise political and social issues and attempt to usher in change. The marriage of religion with the Bengali culture and society allows the promotion of unorthodox ideologies like communal harmony and inclusivity not just among the privileged and educated, but also among the downtrodden. And so it continues, this flow of religion as a medium to influence change amidst beauty in a most democratic egalitarian participative way embracing change with the changing times hopefully towards a better and more humane society.
So from the domain of the aristocratic “Thakur Dalan’ to the “Barowari Sarbojonin Pujas”, Durgotsav has expanded and embraced every nook and corner converting the city into an immersive art experience.
A massive public art forum with a democratic, egalitarian, secular viewership inviting global audience to partake in this grand carnival that connects mythology history and cultural heritage in an evolving continuity of beauty and aesthetics