Kolkata's Puja Organisers Focus on Pandemic Related Themes this Year

Kolkata's Puja Organisers Focus on Pandemic Related Themes this Year
Expect to see Coronasura instead of Mahishasura at puja pandals , Photo Credit: DIPANJAN TIKARI /

From coronasura (Corona Demon) to the migrant mother to lockdown, these are some of the themes that will be featured in Durga Puja pandals

OT Staff
October 17 , 2020
05 Min Read

Although, to Bengalis, the arrival of Goddess Durga (which coincides with the last five days of Navratri) symbolises the annual return of the married daughter along with her children to her parental home for a holiday, she is worshipped in her demon-slaying pose. Balancing on her mount, the lion, the 10-handed goddess drives the spear into the heart of Mahishasura (the Buffalo Demon), the latter representing all that is evil. According to artisans of Kumortuli (the neighbourhood where most of the Durga idols are made in Kolkata), this year they have received several requests for replacing Mahishasura with ‘coronasura’ (or the Corona Demon).

Using the symbolic image of the COVID-19 virus, which has been doing the rounds of the media since the pandemic struck, they sculpted the head of the otherwise traditionally depicted demon for the special requests.

While the concept of ‘coronasura’ may seem bizarre, even frivolous to many, it is not strange for the pandemic as a theme to find an expression during Durga Puja in Kolkata. The neighbourhood Durga Pujas organised in Kolkata are known for their exploration of various themes, from fictional to contemporary, of drawing inspiration from traditional art and craft, of using different kinds of material to construct the marquees and for interior décor, all contributing to the cosmopolitan nature of the annual festival.

Although Durga Puja is expected to be a low key affair this year, you can still bank on seeing some artistic and inspirational ideas being executed.

Barisha Club (located in the southern neighbourhood of Kolkata) has decided to bring forth the plight of the migrant labourers who walked miles defying all challenges during the peak of the lockdown period. They have replaced the traditional image of the goddess with that of a migrant mother with a son in her arm and three more children following her. The woman, with a third eye on her forehead, turns her head towards the viewer while walking towards a halo with 10 arms; her image placed strategically so that the 10 arms appear to encircle her. The children can be identified by the animal mount in their hands, which they carry like a child carrying a toy.

According to media reports, Sealdah Yuva Dal have built their theme on the role of doctors, nurses and police personnel – the frontline warriors – during the pandemic crisis.

Then there are pandals (marquees) where you will find creative interpretations of the pandemic theme. Ahiritola Sarbojanin (in north Kolkata) have focused on sun worship, and how they expect the sunshine to dispel the pandemic-induced gloom. However, the pandal (marquee) does not represent any known temple but an imaginary creation of the artist. Chetla Agrani (south Kolkata) has chosen the pandemic induced darkness in life as their theme, drawing inspiration from Tagore’s poem in Bengali titled ‘Doohsomoy’. The pandal is decorated with bamboo craft. Belgachhia Sadharon Durgotsav (north Kolkata) has decided to call their theme Abodhho or Lock-down, where they have shown how individuals interpreted their confinement in terms of their financial strength.

But not all have focused on the pandemic. Tala Baroari (north Kolkata) has decided to focus on the contribution made by the Indian Army in protecting the country from foreign aggression.

Three of the popular festival organisers in south Kolkata (Badamtala Ashar Sangha, 66 Palli and Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club) have decided to collaborate to present a unified theme so that visitors can drive by and not crowd around. Their theme reflects the Apu Trilogy directed by famous director late Satyajit Ray. Another popular neighbourhood organiser, Jodhpur Park Saradiya Utsab Committee, is planning to take Ma Durga and her family for a ride around the city, in a tableau called Durga Gari.

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Then there are thematic pandals which have been constructed after known edifices, such as well-known temples of Kedarnath (Sreebhumi Sporting Club, Salt Lake) and Badrinath (Santosh Mitra Square, central Kolkata).

Note: People are being encouraged to avoid pandal-hopping and watch Durga Puja virtually this time. If you want to go out, remember to follow all pandemic-containment rules, including wearing masks, maintaining distance, and sanitising hands frequently, as well as avoiding crowds. Please check if the organisers have implemented an e-pass system. Also, many organisers have said that if they find too many people arriving, they may temporarily ban entry.  

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