Monday, September 21, 2009

Durga Puja: A closely guarded Secular art from Bengal

Durga Puja is well known as the most important festival of the Bengalis throughout the world. People know that the entire West Bengal shuts down for a week during the Durga Puja. But it's not widely known to most of the people that Durga Puja is also a very closely guarded exquisite form of folk art that has rarely been appreciated or publicized outside Bengal.

I'm not aware of any other form of popular art exhibition, like the one that happens in the form of Durga Puja, anywhere else in the world. And very strikingly these art exhibitions, unlike the elite ones that you would have heard of, are too much well attended.

I don't intend to downplay the artistic superiority of the classy artists whose paintings and creations are exhibited in the art galleries, but the creations of the thousands of unknown artists and painters and artisans and sculptors and craftsmen that are show cased for a week for the mllions of people that throng the Puja Pandals across West Bengal are no doubt of very high degree of ingenuity.

The most important thing is that almost the entire class of people who create these pieces of art are mostly not much educated and belong to the financially weaker sections. But they do have a very rare indigenous skill which they use to the fullest to create authentic miniature replicas of Harry Potters palace, Indian Parliament building, American White House, Meenakshi Temple and many other building and structures with great finesse. And most importantly these structures are created mostly with eco friendly materials. Apart from thermocol almost everything else, like various forms of woods, straws, leaves, mud, that are used are eco friendly. Craftsmen also come up with unique raw materials like earthen lamps, mud cups, ice cream sticks or even the hogla leaves from Sundarban for decoration.

I've written about the economic implication of the entire event in a previous blog. Here I'd like to show case the artistic side of it. In this age where various forms of art are fast declining across the world this ingenious form of popular art, that is surviving solely due to the public interest and enthusiasm is indeed a very rare thing. I'm sure not many such instances would be found where an entire population take so keen interest to preserve a artistic tradition so keenly. Just a small statistic - there are at least 5000 clubs in Calcutta who organize Durga Puja in various parts of Calcutta. Each of these clubs have a budget ranging from a few hundred thousands to a few million rupees and each of them put up pandals of various shapes and sizes and artistry. More importantly the art, though associated with a religions festival of a particular religion, is very secular in nature. The pandals made in the form of a church or other non-Hindu form of architectures are plenty. On the other hand pandals in the form of temples are not that common.

Snippet of craftsmanship involved in Durga Puja

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