The Evolution Of Durga Puja Pandals In The Great Indian Festivals Market

Posted on October 1, 2013 in Specials

By Sayendri Panchadhyayi:

Whether it is the sun-blazed sky or the frenzy of shoppers, you know that it is that month of the year when one is ready to hop around, meander through the swallowing crowd, bargain from the street shops, wait with sheer patience in the never ending queues of shopping malls and inundate the back seats of the cars with obese shopping bags!


Yes it is the Durga Puja, a festival for which not just the Bengalis, but people from different communities wait for. If you are in Kolkata, you can feel the fervor from five months back! The evidence – your tailor shows you the door as s/he is loaded with orders and is in a doubt whether it can be completed before the Pujas. The last minute shoppers don’t even stand a chance if they expect to coax the tailor for that Midas ‘finishing’ touch on the dress.

Apart from shopping and shopaholics, Durga Puja has become the ultimate event for the corporations to generate wealth and reap huge profits. Theme pujas have gained the ‘it’ position for the past few years and mushroomed in bigger proportions. Themes can vary from the power of women to bringing to life the vivid rural scenes from the heart of Bengal. The themes become an extension of the mood of the local clubs, an expression of their perspectives and a canvas for the artisans who toil for a prolonged period of time to turn their vision into reality. It’s not just the pandals that undergoes experimentation but also the idols of the deities that are molded according to the theme of the pandals. With the introduction of awards for felicitating the pujas, competition has soared to a completely new level. Pandals are concentrating towards utilizing bio-degradable, waste or recyclable products to align with the cause of eco-consciousness. An exhibition of grandeur becomes the go-to option for some pujas, which eventually takes on a signature anthem. Whether it is the décor inside the pandals or the elaborate lights, these pandals keep away from conforming to the trend of experiments and embrace their signature style.

During the Pujas, every other radio station and also corporates come up with their own range of awards in the categories of best ‘para’ (locality) pujo, best housing complex pujo, best idol and so on. What remains interesting is that the emergence of awards have billowed competitiveness and rivalry among the various local clubs as it accords them recognition followed by prestige, and not to forget the money. Such is the frenzy to earn the top slot that clubs begin constructing pandals from four months prior to the pujas, blocking the roads and creating traffic problems. Hoardings adorn the streets with the promise of the best puja experience ever. Anthems are composed and celebrities are hired for individual pandals. The organisation of cultural soirees is evaluated through the ability of the local clubs to draw celebrity performers for their pujas, so that they remain in the limelight. The space around the puja itself becomes a hub of small business. Be it the street food stalls or game stalls, Durga Puja accelerates the economic opportunities for these street vendors. Even the residents earn a decent amount by allowing cars to park in the most unlikely zones.

The commercialization of Durga Puja is not a recent phenomenon. Academic endeavors have been organized around the capitalist nature circumscribing Durga Puja. However one might like to look at it, the romanticization with Durga Puja persists. After all, it is a manifestation of social cohesion and solidarity that makes it a success.