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Paens to the pandal

Durga Puja is the time when the Bengalis are at their creative best. A group of artisans from Bengal have come to the City to recreate the famous Belur Math Temple here.


The replica of the Belur Math Temple at Mahalakshmipuram.

DURGA PUJA brings out the most creative elements in a Bengali. Tradition is strictly adhered to in the actual worship of Durga, even if it means transporting all the way from Kolkota Ganga Maati (clay from the Ganga) to make the murtis, Ganga jal or water, lotuses, and special drums called dhaakis, for Durga's worship. But when it comes to the celebration and the cultural programmes, creativity gets a free flow, bringing out an array of interesting programmes by each of the 24 Bengali associations in the City, every year. North Bangalore Bengali Association has chosen to celebrate its silver jubilee year by bringing what is a common practice in Kolkota to Mahalakhsmipuram.

The pandal for the worship of Durga has been designed as a replica of the Belur Math Temple in Kolkota. Made of bamboo, thermacol, cloth, and tarpaulin, the artisans have been brought in from Madinipur in Bengal, to create this symmetrical and neat structure.

"It is common in Kolkota to have a specially-created pandal for the worship of Durga," says A. Bhattacharya, association member. Even our Vidhana Soudha was once created in Kolkota and it was so well done, it drew the crowds, he remembers.

"We have been wanting to create such a pandal here for a while now, but space constraints did not allow it," says P.S. Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the association.

This year being special, the association chose larger premises for the puja and that made this pandal possible.

Arul Sahu, one of the craftspersons hired on contract from Bengal, puts finishing touches to a thermacol cut-out of a kalash, a pot decorated with mango leaves topped with a coconut, a sacred symbol to all Hindu communities. Painting the mango leaves and the swastika, he says: "I used to make such decorations back home for the bigger decorators. When I saw that there is a good demand for such work, I joined a group that creates these structures. We have taken up a few projects this year, and this one is the third."

The craftspersons actually have an album of pandals to show clients. Once the client has chosen the structure, the craftspersons shop for materials, and get started. "We bought the cloth and tarpaulin in Kolkota as they are all inexpensive there," says another artisan. Twelve craftsmen have worked for 22 days to create Bangalore's Belur Math.

With food and accommodation provided by the employer, each artisan may not make more than about Rs. 10,000 each, per project taken up. "In Kolkota, there is too much competition for this work, so we get paid lesser every year," the artisans point out. So coming to Bangalore this year made better business sense.

They say they invariably get more work than they can handle in back in the Bengal Capital. Time constraints dictate that they choose only two or three projects in the Durga season. The rest of the year, they get work at marriage pandals and during smaller poojas.

Even as some of the artisans cut more thermacol, paste cloth on it with Fevicol, others mix Fevicol in water-based paints and use it to perfect the decorations. A lorry arrives carrying the Durga idols from Ulsoor, where they are made. The glowing beauty of the Durgas fills the hall.

The skill of the traditional Bengali statue-makers is displayed in four or five clay idols, perfect in form and features. Bishwa Bandhu Chatterjee, President, North Bangalore Cultural Samithi, underlines the role of cultural programmes during Durga Puja, saying they are not an embellishment but an integral part of it, the very affirmation of Bengali existence. This year's celebrations involve drama, music, and literature, all of which are very close to the hearts of true Bengalis.

On Shasti, the first day, women will hold a food sale. Every evening will see the hall packed with people of all ages who come to watch the well-written and rehearsed plays. "In Kolkota, almost 1,500 magazines are published with poems and stories penned by members of associations, at Durga Puja time. Similarly, we bring out magazines every year to share ideas."

A budget of about Rs. 6 lakh has been used well, with decoration alone accounting for than Rs. 2.5 lakh, and food arrangements being made for over 1,000 people. The highlight of the silver jubilee celebrations of this association is that it will culminate in a drama festival to be held on November 2 and 3 at Ravindra Kalakshetra. Saoli Mitra, daughter of the doyens of Indian theatre, Shumbho and Trupti Mitra, will present Puthul Kala, a contemporary version of Ibsen's The Doll's House, and Nath Bathi Anath Bath, a mono act based on the character of Draupadi, who, despite having five husbands, was helpless at the hands of Duryodhana.

To preserve the traditional format of worship, priests have arrived from Bengal with the Ganga Jal that is indispensable in Durga Puja, says Mr. Chatterjee. The priests are chosen with care as the puja is elaborate, and takes more than six hours to perform.

Between Ashtami and Navami, there is an auspicious time when Mrithmayi Matha (mother made of clay or mortal mother) becomes Chinmayi Matha (mother full of soul or immortal mother). It is believed that Goddess Durga killed Mahishasur at that instant, and deed is celebrated in the form of Sandhi Puja at whatever hour of the day or night it falls every year.

Members of the various Bengali associations in the City visit each other's pujas and spread the good feel and message of their cultural life, says the Association President. They even share the expenses of bringing in artistes from all over the country for their cultural programs. "None of us miss Kolkota at this time, as we have created our own celebration here," say the members proudly.

The second generation of Bangalore-born Bengalis are not only evolving their own identity, they add a dash of local flavour to their entertainment programs. "We include the kind of music that they want or the dramas that they like as they've grown up here and have only been to Bengal for holidays," says Mr. Chatterjee.

The Durga Puja celebrations of this association will be on till October 15 at Sadumatada Sadara Vidyabhivrudhi Sangha, No. 5A, 4th A Main Road, 12th Cross, West of Chord Road, Mahalakshmipuram, Bangalore 560086.

CHARUMATI SUPRAJA

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