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

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Women innovators on simple, revolutionary alternate solutions for water problems

By Proshakha Maitra, Mansee Bal Bhargava* The detrimental effects of uncontrolled population rise and accelerated change in the global climate have posed tremendous pressure on the water and sanitation. This calls all stakeholders, from both developed and developing nations, to improve their resilience and to instigate sustainability. It is more crucial than ever to optimise the use of the resources we have on hand since the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Alleged killing of another Bangladesh youth inside Indian territory: NHRC inquiry sought

By Kirity Roy* There was yet another incident of the killing of a Bangladeshi youth by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘Barthar’ BOP of ‘G’ Company of 75 BSF Battalion. In last five years several incidents of killings happened under this police station’s jurisdiction and the cases will get the award as “Not Guilty” as usual.

Modi model, Hindutva icon 'justified' alliance with Muslim League before Independence

By Shamsul Islam*  Our PM describes himself as ‘Hindu’ nationalist and member of RSS. He proudly shares the fact that he was groomed to be a political leader by one of the two fathers of the Hindutva politics, MS Golwalkar (the other being VD Savarkar) and given the task of establishing Hindutva polity in India after eradicating secularism.

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. 

Crusader for people’s causes, this Hollywood actor entered 'unexplored zones' in US

By Harsh Thakor*  Marlon Brando on April 3rd completes his birth centenary. He perished in 2004, on July 1, aged 80 years. Arguably in Hollywood Brando penetrated sensitivity and versatility at an unparalleled scale and discovered new horizons or explored path breaking zones in acting.

Nuclear power expansion: Is AEC's new, 'unrealistic' target fully backed by PMO?

By Shankar Sharma*  Another unrealistic and tall claim by Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has been announced: India is eyeing 100 GW nuclear power by 2047, the AEC chairman  AK Mohanty   has said. A few years ago, the dream target for the Indian nuclear establishment was 275,000 MWe of nuclear power by 2050 (as per DAE document of 2008 "A Strategy for the Growth of Electricity in India”). Now this target of 100 GW nuclear power by 2047. And as at the end of February 2024, the actual nuclear power capacity was only 7,480 MWe, which formed only 1.7% of the total power capacity in the country. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

How huge crowd at Mukhtar Ansari funeral is comparable to BJP's 'people's court' talk

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The massive crowd at the funeral of Mukhtar Ansari in Mohammadabad reflects the power and influence that his family wields in the area. One can't deny that he had enormous power in Ghazipur and Mau districts. But the crowd that came and chanted slogans in his favour does not exonerate him of his conviction by the court.  It is important that we understand this.