Skip to main content

Kolkata manual workers 'real heroes' behind Unesco tag to Durga Puja structures

By Rathin Das* 

The UNESCO’s intangible culture heritage tag won by Kolkata’s Durga Puja festival in 2021 led to a slanging match between two political parties claiming credit for themselves. But the preparations and documentation of the Durga Puja celebrations and all its ingredients had started years before these parties came to their present positions of power.
Irrespective of the claims and its timeline, the real heroes to achieve this feat are innumerable artists who ideate out of the blue, quite literally, and thousands of manual workers who implement these ideas into magnificent structures which become visual treats for visitors to wonder at.
As art has no frontiers, the myriad colours at these Durga Puja pandals create immense possibilities with visuals — from the depiction of mythological stories to science fiction themes, or a typical rural Bengal scenario to the Vatican City or the Burj Khalifa.
There is no advertising tagline like “you name it, we make it” for these artisans, but they do erect near-real replicas of famous buildings and structures year after year and then vanish into their interior villages.
Not just the themes and colour schemes of the pandals, but the various materials used to erect huge replicas too are mind-boggling.
Clothes, ropes, strings, cardboard, tree barks, wood logs, bamboo, plastic vessels, cotton wool or even the innocuous ‘gaamchha’ can be put to brilliant use to convey a theme or replica of a famous structure.
While the UNESCO tag has recognized all this craftsmanship, the Puja organisers this year have honoured its workers in their genius ways.
A puja pandal in south Kolkata has displayed the embroidered images of fingerprints of all the workers who helped build it up during the last few months. Fingerprints of all carpenters, painters, electricians and others were enlarged on computer screens from which artisan women embroidered these images with black wool on white thin clothes. Names of the workers have also been embroidered below their fingerprints. A real unique tribute to workers.
About 20 kilometres to the northern edge of the city, another Puja pandal has honoured all its workers by putting up their photos at work all along the pathway where people queue up to have a glimpse of the presiding deity Durga inside.
In many other pandals, the crafts and materials have been chosen in a way that brings employment to the poor handicrafts and cottage industry sectors.
The terracotta idols of Durga, her children and the theme pandal at nearby Tala Park has provided much-needed jobs to the potter community reeling under financial stress for two or more years.
At another pandal in south Kolkata, a club’s puja theme is the innocuous ‘Gaamchhaa’ (Indian bath towel), described as a daily essential and ritual too. Thousands of such ‘Gaamchhas’ were woven by weavers elated with the huge orders on the eve of the Durga festivities.
But who has asked the puja organisers to honour these workers, either with the display of their fingerprints or photos or by giving them huge orders? None.
Puja organisers have themselves decided to honour the poor workers, an attitude generally associated with the state’s political force which was vanquished a decade ago by the party they follow.
There is a dichotomy in the situation that was best explained by the argument that empathy for the working class in Bengal has now been so generalized that it transcends traditional ideological barriers, except for the hardcore right-wingers.
---
*Senior Ahmedabad journalist who was recently in Kolkata. A version of this article was first appeared in Global Bihari. All pix by author

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

August 9 to be observed as Corporates Quit India day: Top farmers' group

By Our Representative A recent general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the top farmers' organisation, stated hat "there is no need for any illusion of change in the pro-corporate policies of the BJP-NDA government" following the recent elections in which BJP failed to achieve even simple majority. It insisted,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is hell bent" to continue 'business as usual' policies.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Belgian report alleges MNC Etex responsible for asbestos pollution in Madhya Pradesh town Kymore: COP's Geneva meet

By Our Representative A comprehensive Belgian report has held MNC Etex , into construction business and one of the richest, responsible for asbestos pollution in Kymore, an industrial town in in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh. The report provides evidence from the ground on how Kymore’s dust even today is “annoying… it creeps into your clothes, you have to cough it”, saying “It can be deadly.”

Women's emancipated under Mao: Girl completed primary school, began working in farm collective

By Harsh Thakor*  The book “New Women in New China”, a collection of articles projecting dramatic transformation -- political and economic -- in the status of Chinese women after liberation, originally published in 1972, and reprinted in 2023 by the Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, encompasses the period between 1949 and 1972, seeking to give justice to the subject of women’s emancipation in China after the 1949 revolution.