West Bengal rocks to fusion Puja chic

October 5th, 2008 - 12:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Oct 5 (IANS) The sultry October afternoon does not deter the crowd in a south Kolkata market from thronging the shops that line a busy thoroughfare. It is carnival time for shoppers in this eastern megalopolis scouting for the best festival bargains.For the Durga Puja, the biggest annual festival here, the flavour this year is fusion. It swings between the glittering chic from Gujarat and Maharashtra to eco-crafts from rural Bengal.

The shop windows in the markets and the new malls that have mushroomed all over the city are crammed with the latest designer labels - the traditional Bengali sari, dhoti and kurta having taken a backseat.

The look is a mix of mirrors, glass work, zari, zardosi, sequins, crystals, bamboo, palm fronds, shola weeds and clay puja pandals at the fashion counters.

The budgets of puja organisers are big, Rs.500,000 on an average this year. The cost is no less than Rs.100,000 even for private family pujas.

“Security is tighter than usual because of the recent terrorist violence in northern and western India. But I am sure nothing will happen in Kolkata. All the terrorists stay here in the city,” laughs Mayor Subroto Mukherjee over a cup of ‘cutting chai’ at the venue of one of the most expensive and prestigious Durga Pujas in the city, Ekdalia Park.

“It is a transit point for the Islamic terror modules sneaking in from Bangladesh, Nepal and the neighbouring states. They would not want to harm their safe transit hideout,” Mukherjee told IANS.

The residents of Ekdalia Park, who are celebrating their 65th Durga Puja, are creating a 100-foot artistic marvel in glass, mirrors and plywood painted in a dull shade of ochre with a square chandelier for a ceiling. It has a distinct Gujarati look.

Mukherjee, the president of the puja committee, holds forth: “We will not take away from the traditional core of the festivities despite the new ethnic look.”

At Park Circus, a few kilometres away, an army of artisans is building a 75-foot ethnic temple in bamboo, dry date palm fronds and hemp. The indigenous “mooli” bamboo has been sourced from Kamalgachi, 30 km from the city.

Along the eastern Metropolitan Bypass, the organisers of a community puja are recreating Bengali novelist Manik Bandopadhyay’s “Padma Nadir Majhi” (The Boatmen of River Padma) in bamboo and thatch. An artificial river will have seven country boats to round off the ambience from Bangladesh, where the novel is set.

In Behala, almost all the pujas are themed on ethnic crafts from across the country.

The central theme of glass and mirrors spills over into the markets as well. The accessories shops in the bazaars of south Kolkata, New Market and College Street in north Kolkata shone with the glitter of crystal, mirror and glass eardrops, danglers and kundan jewellery from Rajasthan.

“The designs are a bit north Indian this year, but that is what women are looking for this season. They have been inspired by Bollywood,” a shopkeeper in south Kolkata said.

The usual explosion of street-side kiosks hawking terracotta jewellery from the villages of Bengal is missing. “I could find only one shop that was selling terracotta jewellery in Gariahat,” said Rashi Bhatnagar, a tourist, who wanted to pick up clay trinkets for her family back home in Haryana.

The icons of the goddess and her four children are also moving towards Bollywood glitter in Kumartuli, a 250-year-old colony of traditional craftsmen, where most of the idols are made. Glass, mirrors and zari have replaced the traditional shola (a thin white paper-like) weed used as ornaments and finery to deck up the gods. Artisans attribute it to two reasons.

“The supply of shola weeds has dwindled because the rivers are drying up in south and north Bengal, where the weeds are cultivated in the shallow waters of the rivulets.

“Second, the community puja committees want their icons to stand out and are willing to fork out more money for idols decorated with zari and mirror chalchitra (traditional background motifs that adorn the central frame of the icons) in true tradition of Bollywood film sets.

“Tradition is being compromised,” rued master craftsman Pashupati Rudra Paul, nephew of legendary artisan Rakhal Paul of Kumartuli, in a chat with IANS.

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