From celebrating rural Bengal to empowerment of women, Durga Puja celebrations in New Delhi will come in many hues this year. With the festival starting on Tuesday, the numerous pandals in the national capital are presenting unique themes. One of the main hubs for celebrations, and home to arguably the most widely attended Durga Puja pandals, will be Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi.
Mela Ground, which is the biggest ground in the CR Park area, is expecting a footfall of 50,000 people per day. Shekhar Guha, general secretary, Durga Puja Samiti, Mela Ground, said, “Our theme this year is ‘ancient rural Bengal’, because people seem to be forgetting their roots in the midst of our attraction to modernity. To ensure that the affair is eco-friendly, we have used bamboo and jute in our material.”
The ground will also be home to performances by baul (folk) artistes who will be lending a touch of tradition to the proceedings. The Mela Ground pandal also has a budget of over Rs 40 lakh after a cut from its last budget. ‘’We are largely reliant on sponsors for our budget and have obtained many of them, such as Indian Oil, State Bank of India etc,” Guha said. This is also one of the few venues that will be offering free Wi-fi services to its visitors from 18 October.
The fusion of modernity and tradition is best demonstrated in food stalls that will be seen at many of these pandals. The pandal at the Co-operative Ground in CR Park will be home to stalls by international brands such as Domino’s, Kwality Walls, Pepsi, etc., alongside flavours from Kolkata, such as Bijoli Grill. Mridul Barua, the stall-in-charge here, claimed that their budget was around Rs 40 lakh, and that they have cut their budget from last year to curtail expenditure. Asked about how the event might affect the environment, he said: ‘’We have used eco-friendly material for our plates as well as decorations to ensure that we don’t cause ecological damage.’’
On the other hand, there are a number of low-key celebrations in and around CR Park, such as the one at Uday Shankar Park, in GK II. Anirban Dey, a member of the organising committee here, said that with the passage of time, many of the bigger Durga Puja celebrations have grown more commercialised.
“We hope to remain as true to our roots as possible. For instance, we have used the same faces on our idols, which dates back to 300 years, whereas many big pandals change the faces on their idols every year. It is also evident that the large scale celebrations are growing more commercialised with each passing year. You can tell from the number of sponsors they have. All this takes away from the essence of the festival,” Dey said, adding, “we have also been approached by a prominent internet provider for Wi-fi services, but are still considering it.”
Many pandals are also bringing up social issues while celebrating the festival. The Arambagh Puja, which is to take place at Panchkuian Road in Central Delhi, aims to be a silent protest against the growing violence against women in society. To challenge set notions, the Arambagh Puja Samiti will also be hosting widows from Vrindavan, acid attack survivors, and sex workers from Sonagachi in Kolkata, Asia’s largest red-light district, as well as untouchables from Alwar, Rajasthan.
The main pandal here will include installations and paintings of female icons such as Kalpana Chawla, Mary Kom, Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai, to name a few. Its main attraction will be the idol of a 40ft tall Adivasi woman armed with a bow, arrow and sword, made out of fibre-glass. The budget of the festival has been halved from Rs 1 crore in 2013 to Rs 50 lakh this year. This will take place at Panchkuian Road in Central Delhi.
Speaking about the event, Abhijit Bose, executive chairman, Arambagh Puja Samiti, said, “This puja is a call against all the bad practices and violence meted out to women. We urge to end dowry, violence etc against women and other sporadic wickedness in society.” He added that over one lakh people are expected at the pandal.