In Bengal, Durga Puja is not just any festival, it is the festival par excellence. In Kolkata, the 5-day festivities will be the usual carnival of hopping from one themed pandal to another, savouring delicious food, buying toys and going for ferris wheel rides. Puja pandals in Kolkata are not mere altars. They are serious art projects, an ephemeral, temporary but utterly captivating Kolkata Biennale of Art. If you’re in the city, you will probably see at least twenty pandals in a single day, but whatever you do, don’t forget to visit these 20. Some of the pandals in our list are venerable veterans, stars of the annual circuit. Others are upstarts, eager to capture the imagination of the public. So go ahead and enjoy yourself silly!
Ballygunge Cultural (South Kolkata)
This South Kolkata ‘para pujo’, along with its immediate neighbour, Samajsebi Sangha, has always been a crowd puller. This year, in collaboration with British Council Kolkata, it will celebrate the life and works of William Shakespeare to mark the Bard’s 400th death anniversary. Visitors will be able to watch 37 shorts of Shakespeare’s 37 plays across a multi-screen display. The visual presentation titled The Globe Theatre’s Complete Walk can also be seen at Ahiritola Sarbajanin in North Kolkata.
Bhabanipore Abasar (South Kolkata)
The organisers of this puja pandal would like visitors to their marquee to leave behind the humdrum land of reality and enter a land of dreams. The theme is ‘The Land of Fairies’, so expect even the idols of Goddess Durga and her celestial family to look like fairies! The décor will be crafted out of clay, thermocol and paper.
Bhabanipore 75 Pally (South Kolkata)
This south Kolkata pandal has been named ‘Arshinagar’ or the city of mirrors, with, you guessed it, hundreds of mirrors as its chief decoration. Apart from the idols, there will also be an eight-foot-tall statue of Kolkata’s very own Saint Teresa. What’s more, the statue will be inside a designated ‘selfie zone’, so click away to your heart’s content.
Beliaghata 33 Pally (North Kolkata)
This community pandal has decided to evoke the nostalgia of Kolkata’s black and yellow taxis. So the pandal has been designed with parts of the classic Ambassador taxi cab. Expect the theme to be extended inside the pandal as well.
Deshapriya Park (South Kolkata)
Last year, their 88-feet high ‘tallest Durga’ was such a traffic stopper that the police had to shut it down in the middle of the festival. This year, the organisers have decided to top is by erecting a tableau where a 1000-armed Ma Durga will be seen slaying a Mahishasura that’s 40 feet High! To avoid last year’s pandemonium, Kolkata police has already drawn up a crowd and traffic control policy. However, considering this is a city full of pandal connoisseurs, chaos cannot be ruled out!
Ekdalia Evergreen (South Kolkata)
One of Kolkata’s much-hyped big-budget community ‘pujo’, this pandal, made out of bamboo, thermocol and fiberglass, is a giant replica of the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The idol of Ma Durga, crafted by master sculptor Sanatan Rudra Pal, will be dressed like the deity from the Madurai temple.
Hindustan Park (South Kolkata)
A Bengali grandmother (thakuma/didima) of yore had certain special characteristics, such as narrating umpteen fairy tales, sitting for long hours cutting arecanuts, embroidering quilts, etc. Based on this nostalgic idea of childhood, artist Anirban Das has used old spectacle frames, sticks, nutcrackers (‘jaanti’) and embroidered quilts (made by women from Midnapore) to decorate the pandal. This one’s one of South Kolkata’s most well known ‘pujo’s, so go prepared for large crowds
Hatibagan Nabin Pally (North Kolkata)
This pandal has been inspired by a little-known craft tradition from Rajasthan. The craftsmen of Bassi village in Chittor build a form of mobile temple/altar called Kaavad. These colourful box-shaped altars open out in layers and are decorated with tales from the epics as well as tales of various gods and goddesses. Mendicants carry these altars from village to village and from house to house, setting them up and reciting the tales through songs. Eminent Kaavad artist Dwarkaprasad Jhangid has been leading a team of craftsmen from Bassi village to create multiple kaavads and merge them into one large pandal.
Kidderpore 25 Pally (South Kolkata)
Located on the south-west corner of the city, the organisers of this pandal have decided to focus on the theme of the origin of the universe. To create this cosmic mega event, artist Rintu Das has used the most common, mundane object of our lives—the metal spoon!
Lake View Park (North Kolkata)
Located in the northern suburb of Kolkata, the pandal has drawn inspiration from the life and culture of the Pachauri tribe and other tribes of Nagaland. The ambience has been recreated through depiction of green hills, tribal huts and handicrafts.
Naktala Udayan Sangha (South Kolkata)
Located in the southern fringe of Kolkata, this pandal have decided to chart man’s quest to locate the power of shakti within oneself. This inner power is an embodiment of godhood, as represented by Durga. A panel of visual presentations charting this quest will lead the pandal visitor to the final encounter with their inner shakti when they come face to face with the idol of the Great Goddess.
Shib Mandir (South Kolkata)
Not far from the southern end of Rabindra Sarobar, this puja pandal committee has drawn its inspiration from the use of wood in everyday life. Conceptualised by artist Bimal Samanta, expect to see wooden spoons, ladles, cricket bats, carrom boards, letter boxes and much else used as décor in the marquee. The idols too will be made of wood.
Shyampukur Sarbajanin (North Kolkata)
Said to be one of the oldest pujas of North Kolkata, this year, the pandal will use dolls, kites and the reel (‘lathai’) to decorate the marquee.
Sreebhumi Sporting (East Kolkata)
This year, the organisers have decided to house Ma Durga in a pandal designed to look like the famous Jagananth Temple of Puri. To this end, the pandal has been built with iron frames instead of the usual bamboo to help recreate the stone carving and statues that decorate the original temple.
Suruchi Sangha (South Kolkata)
This South Kolkata puja has decided to seek inspiration from foreign shores. The pandal’s design is based on a typical Bhutanese gompa or monastery, complete with prayer flags and other Buddhist symbols. The organisers wish to send out a message of world piece with their effort.
Tridhara Sammilani (South Kolkata)
Not far from Deshapriya Park, this pandal will focus on tribal lifestyle through the medium of tribal art. The main theme dwells on the hunting rituals and the décor will include some of the authentic weapons used by various tribal communities as well as their traditional masks. Tribal dance troupes from Jhargram in West Bengal) and Gir in Gujarat will perform during the festive days.
Ultadanga Pallysree (East Kolkata)
This pandal is quite unique. The organisers feel that focusing on just the main pandal and the idol is old hat, and instead they want to involve the entire neighbourhood as one giant installation art project. Each individual building in the neighbourhood will be decorated to represent animal and other motifs.
Vivekananda Sporting (East Kolkata)
Located in Kolkata’s Lake Town area, this pandal will focus on environmental degradation, especially the loss of bird habitat owing to an increase in the number of mobile phone towers. Birds made from straw, cloth and thermocol will be used to recreate an avian world in distress. Visitors will receive saplings as gifts, to plant near their homes.
Bosepukur Talbagan (South Kolkata)
A little over three decades old, this particular puja in the Bosepukur area near Gariahat will be themed on Manipuri dance. So not only will you will find statues of Manipuri dancers gracing the pandal but the idols of Durga and her family will also be dressed in traditional Manipuri dance attire.
Samajsebi Sangha (South Kolkata)
This much awarded puja is adjacent to Ballygunge Cultural. Located near Triangular Park. this year Samajsebi has chosen 'amaar Durga' or 'my Durga' where the theme is women’s empowerment.