A walk through installation art of Durga puja pandals of Kolkata

Note: Click on the Thumbnails to view the images

For enlarged view, right click on the image and select 'Open Image in new window'.
Click on the image for full magnification. Scroll up-down and sideways to see details.

A walk through installation art of Durga puja pandals of Kolkata

Priyadarshi Patnaik and Pinaki Gayen

It is our pleasure, this new year, to share something very exciting and in a new way with the readers (and viewers) of Muse India – a glimpse of the Durga Puja 2016 of Kolkata through the eyes of six students of visual arts from IIT Kharagpur. Durga Puja at Kolkata is a cultural, carnival and aesthetic experience all rolled into one – the aesthetics of life lived on a grand scale for seven days, when every Kolkatan spends night after night visiting one Puja pandal after another , celebrating the sheer experience of the spectacle. What is it that people go to see; how do they react; what is it thattheylike and not like? Their experience, their interaction with the public, and their findings are shared below and we are sure that this will give us some insights into what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ in the present day carnival of Durga Puja.


Stuti Modi, Preksha Trivedi, Hardik Tharad, Archit Tekriwal, Rohan Khameshra and Neerav Jain

In its vibrancy, variety, and opulence, Durga Puja is indeed comparable to such grand spectacles as the Carnival of Brazil. Yet unlike the Brazilian event, which has been closely examined by chroniclers of visual culture, this dynamic Bengali autumn festival has largely been denied serious scholarly attention. From the pandal (temporary sanctuary used to house the deity) and the idol to the neon displays, ad campaigns and fashion, the multi-faceted visual culture of Durga Puja is remarkably responsive to changing times. Even a brief look at the recent developments in pandal designing can shed light on the innovation and adaptability of this creative enterprise.
Here we showcase six popular pandals that we visited and the way that people responded to them: Abasar, Chetla Agrani, Chaltabagan, Deshapriya Park, Suruchi Sangha, Sreebhumi and  Tarun Sangha. What excites you most? – we asked them. The theme, 32% of them responded, while 25% felt that they wanted to see the lighting, with idol viewing a close third at 21%. Today, the glamour of lighting is gone and only 9% feel it is important, while only 11% are keen to explore the ambience. Pandals with very detailed and intricate themes were appreciated by the crowd whereas simple themes went unnoticed. Modern, innovative themes were especially appreciated by the respondents. This year abstract themed pandals also came up which have been positively received. This displays a general shift in perception from the original, traditional pandals to majestic displays and emphasis on grandeur. A lot of Pandals came up with unique ways to embody the deity this year, forgoing the traditional Durga idol. Places that used the idol as a complement to their theme or focused especially on huge, grand idols were appreciated and ranked higher than those who went with the traditional Durga idols. Pandals with smaller or simple idols were rated comparatively lower, highlighting the spectacle-driven mindset of people who preferred seeing brighter and bigger idols compared to smaller and duller ones.
Yet another closely related element, which, by word of mouth, drives people to explore these pandals happen to be things related to city life – crowd, cleanliness, food and open space. In a populous place like Kolkata crowd management and safety figures at the top of the list at 35%, which cleanliness a close second. It is surprising to see that food and side-entertainment is way behind with only 11% giving it emphasis. 
The importance of the sacred space has altered significantly during the last decades replaced, as in all big modern cities of India, by the postmodern concept of ‘spectacle’. Puja pandals happen to be such immersive environments, often associated with contemporary art, where through sculpture, light, sound, video, or performance, as well as architectural, environmental, or assemblage constructions— attempts were made to invite unique artistic and spatial interactions – the public was invited to view this artwork as well as spectacle.
But then change is the norm today, and it is positive. The culture of the pandals have started to embody the throbbing aspects of the popular culture and now seek the collaboration of academically trained artists who attempted to revamp as well as rearticulate both the traditional idol and the pandals.
Calcutta showcases around 4000 pujas out of which around 1000 are theme-based, with themes ranging from spiritual, cultural to scientific and trendy. The Pandal become a ritual of celebration. The puja pandals become, thus commodified where the spectators play the pivotal role. There is also the element of carnivalization, an alternative non-hierarchical ‘social space’ for freedom, adequacy and equality up on this platform of Durga worship. Thus, it represents the opportunity and chances to recreate and reclaiming public space, to protest, to critique, to illustrate; a dialogical landscape through artistic celebration. Clamor for media coverage and celebrity status, fierce competition over corporate sponsorship, and mass hysteria over awards and accolades for well-crafted pandals and idols also contribute significantly to the present character of the spectacle.
But then, that is Kolkata Durga Puja for you! Hope you enjoy the spectacle presented through the twelve images.  


Copyright 2017 Muse India