All around Kolkata, you can hear Bengalis saying “pujo-pujo gondho” (it smells of puja) as they prepare for the five days of continuous festivities by thronging shops for new clothes to wear for each day of the celebrations. By now, the deities are at the last stage of preparation, and soon even the pandals will start getting constructed. While Durga Puja, West Bengal‘s biggest occasion, is all about spending time with family and friends, a little extravagance never hurts. In fact, Kolkata’s extravagant puja pandals have now become a household name! Every year, these five iconic pandals of the city compete to win the title of the year’s best puja. To achieve the same, they go out of their ways and employ some of the most skilled artisans from all over the state to innovate something that truly demonstrates the creative prowess of the Calcuttan mass. By Shubhanjana Das
Every year during puja, some of the most famous puja pandals boisterously announce their theme of the year as they gear up to compete with the other puja pandals. However, Bagbazar puja, one of the oldest pandals in Kolkata, stays true to the traditional puja with a mesmerisingly beautiful murti (idol) of Maa Durga. An exhibition is also held on the puja grounds. The decorations are pretty humble, while the traditions and rituals don’t waver. If you’re up for photo ops, then their sindur khela on dashami is worth witnessing.
Mohammad Ali Park
Started in 1969, the Mohammad Ali Park puja is a massive crowd puller. Their recurrent theme of recreating architectural structures from around the world is so beautiful that people are willing to stand in long lines to get a glimpse of it. The pandal celebrated its 50th year in 2018. For this, they recreated the Chittorgarh Fort of Rajasthan, garnering much acclaim and praise from the public.
Ekdalia Evergreen’s first puja hails back to 1943. Since then, it has become a constant in a Kolkata’s puja pandal hopping trail because of the pandal’s temple replicas and impressive lighting. Ekdalia Evergreen’s 2018 puja pandal theme recreated Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu‘s Big Temple using fibreglass. The idol was dressed in a traditional Benarasi Sari.
The Jodhpur park puja pandal brings path-breaking innovations to the table. Known for merging traditional with technology, the pandal shot to national fame in 2014. That year, a 3D printer was used to make the idol. They used a digital file and then converted it to biodegradable, three dimensional solid objects. Needless to say, it was the first of its kind in the whole world.
Every year, everyone in the city anticipates the theme announcement by Ballygunge Central. It is, hands down, one of the biggest and most popular pujas in Kolkata. This puja association has welcomed some very prestigious collaborations in the past, including the British Council of Kolkata and Facebook India. In the latter case, the entire puja was forecasted live on Facebook India and Ballygunge Central’s Facebook page. This way, even people who couldn’t come for the puja did not miss out on witnessing the festivities and rituals. What will it be this year? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.