The very mention of Durga Puja, the famous annual festival celebrated by Bengalis all over the world (at the same time rest of India celebrates Navratri), brings to mind large idols of the 10-handed goddess in her demon-slaying pose, riding a lion, and accompanied by her four children and their mounts.
Although idol worship is the more popular form, in the ancient days, the goddess would be worshipped through paintings too. Unfortunately, the concept, popularly known as ‘Poter Durga’ (the Bengal word ‘pot’ meaning ‘picture’ or ‘painting’) is almost fading, both as a ritual and as art. Only a few households in West Bengal still follow the practice. Hatserandi, a small village tucked in Birbhum district of West Bengal, is one such place.
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“We want to draw people’s attention to this nearly vanishing practice,” said Tathagata Neogi, cofounder of Heritage Walk Calcutta (a for-profit social enterprise based out of Kolkata), “and hope to gather support for its preservation.”
With the pandemic crisis looming large over the festive celebrations, and people willing to travel virtually, Neogi and his team decided to take the opportunity to showcase it to a large audience through a virtual walk.
According to Shoubhik Bandyopadhyay, with whom the team is collaborating on the research front, Hatserandi village (near Bolpur/Shantiniketan) is home to several families who have been worshipping Poter Durga for more than two centuries.
Said Neogi, even the number of artists painting Poter Durga is dwindling. Many of them have also shifted from traditional styles to modern expressions. Many from the younger generation have taken to idol making as it is more paying.
The goddess and her children are painted on life-size canvases on-site. They are retained for the whole year and taken for immersion only when the new canvas is prepared the following year, said Neogi.
The virtual walk will not only take the viewers directly to Hatserandi during Durga Puja but also show them how the paintings are done, hold interviews with artists, talk about the rites and rituals, etc.
Called ‘Hatserandi Poter Durga Trail’, these deeply researched and immersive virtual walks are open for a global audience on payment basis.
There will be both English and Bengali language tours at different hours on October 21, 22, 24 and 25.