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Feature || Aagomoni – The Festive Days

Photograph: Augustus Binu

October dutifully sees the city of Joy indulging itself to live up to its decorative title. Kolkata becomes a veritable city of joy in the seven-odd days of the Durga Puja and the several months leading up to it.

Being the primary festival of the masses, the event, which is notable for participation by members of myriad religious communities, is one that is celebrated with an earnestness that is easily reminiscent of the Christmas craze of the west and the Diwali delights in the rest of the country.

Everything from the Art of Fashion to the fashionable forms of the Arts are in practice as the fever of creative fervour that owes its origins to Lord Rama’s untimely awakening and worship of the Divine Goddess, hits a palpably infectious mode with the ‘Kumars’ (in this case, potters) of Kumartuli and the other ghettoes in Bengal unleash their artistic geniuses to imagine and reimagine the divine Goddess every single year.

The cycle of creation and destruction is aptly at play as the ingredients of the very idols that underwent an immersion in the Ganges after last year’s Pujas are recycled to be reassembled to again offer a corporeal structure of the divine.

A Puja Pandal in Kolkata

The legend at play in these parts is a touching tale reminiscent of any typical Bengali household who prepare to welcome the married daughter and her immediate family as she comes back home for a visit from her husband’s abode once a year.

Music and literature have forever held a pride of place when it comes to the Durga Pujas. While ‘Puja’ records and albums have been a staple of the Bengali culture since before independence, big and small publishing joints comes out with their versions of ‘special puja numbers’ (Sharodiya Sankhya) that are often painstakingly edited treasure troves of vernacular literature.

Expectedly, Puja has turned out to be a great time to release highly anticipated films and has historically been a favourable time to stage new theatrical productions as well and it happens to be a practice that is in vogue to this day.

William Princep’s painting of a Puja celebration during the British era.

In the last two decades or so, however, the object of worship and celebration itself has become a battle for artistic supremacy over its countless simulacra, effectively turning Durga Puja into the largest celebration of the masses surrounding what are transitory specimens of rich sculptural art. It would be rather partial to confine this remark to the idols themselves. The improvised temples of worship where the primary skeletons made out of bamboo poles are supplemented by ensembles venturing to stretch the limits of the thinking mind, succeed in authoring wonders that commands the undivided attention of the teeming masses queuing in anticipation, flooding the pandals (as the makeshift temples are popularly referred to) from within the city and without.

The proliferation of popular art – from the thematic Pujas to the glittering web of lights or the sensuous beats of the dhak, robbing the city of sleep for nearly seven days – are upon us.

Here is wishing our readers, stationed in Bengal or otherwise, a very happy and prosperous festive season. []


First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015

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