1. In comparison with the wild, often outlandish, creativity of the south Calcutta pandals, the average pujo in the north of the city is usually a more traditional and sedate affair. Not at Hatibagan, where teabags and paper cranes were brought together in a bizarrely beautiful combination.
2. I saw at least three pandals featuring dolls and puppets this year. Badamtala Ashar Sangha celebrated the Navratris Rajasthani-style, with giant dolls of village belles dressed for garba. Tridhara Sammilani built enormous kathputlis or wooden dolls in an ode to childhood. My favourite among all of these, however, was at Hindustan Park, which created a virtual dollhouse stuffed with colourful wooden toys and dolls of every shape and size.
3. I visited Bhawanipur Abasar with my mother, who collects pipes, so this was a particular delight for her. The pandal this year featured handcrafted terracotta and cane decorations, and a canopy of clay chillums hung over a terracotta Durga.
4. A reliable showstopper is Suruchi Sangha. Every year, this award-winning pandal focuses on a different state, and this year’s theme was Tamil Nadu. The central idol was sculpted in white, and surrounded by black stone carvings of the different forms of Durga worshipped in the south.
5. The centrepiece of any pandal is the protima of Durga standing victorious atop the slain demon, Mahishasura, surrounded by her children. There are as many interpretations of Durga as there are puja committees, and they range from Botticelli beauties to pious Mothers and even the occasional Barbie doll. My favourite Durga, however, is the triumphant warrior goddess. At the Nalin Sarkar Street pandal in North Calcutta, Durga appeared all of a sudden at the end of a long and narrow corridor, ecstatic in her victory, a sight to lift the spirits of the most jaded pandal-hopper.
Pop-up: The Pujo pandals of Calcutta (2015)
In our first guest post from a guest city, Anisha Sharma picks and photographs 5 of the most innovative and stylish pujo pandals in Calcutta this year.
Anisha is a DPhil candidate in Economics at Balliol College, University of Oxford. She grew up in Calcutta and now lives in Delhi. For more pujo photos visit her Instagram account.
Pop-up: Bhendy Bazaar
Western boots and shoes and the umbrella were the chief articles of modern dress that equipped women for the public sphere in 19th century Bombay. Accessories like purses, handbags and watches, that could have further facilitated their public role, gained widespread currency only in the 20th century.
Among the reasons that could account for the late introduction of the accessories was that the form of the sari as well as the stitched blouse worn with it could accommodate small necessities on the person of the wearer herself. Essentials were tucked between the gathered folds of the sari at the waist or within the bounded entity of the blouse, a practice that continues to date in India. Orpa Slapak notes that women of the Bene Isreali community tucked a pouch (tied with a lace) into the waist of the sari, ‘a kind of hidden pocket’ in which they stored money and other valuables.
Hashim Badani accessorised with his camera at Bombay’s Petticoat Lane.
Pop-up: Dhobi Ghat (1890-95)
Dhobiwada Road, Mahaluxmi.
Hanging was the predominant method of execution in Bombay. Early instances of hanging were public spectacles, where the victims were displayed in chains to the gathered crowds.
Hersh Acharya captures hung shirts with a Wildean wistful eye.
Pop-up: Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
2012, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court recently ordered the police to drop the case against Vijay Patil, arrested in Kolhapur one morning for drinking chai (tea) in a suspicious manner.
“We were unaware that the law required anyone to give an explanation for having tea, whether in the morning, noon or night. One might take tea in a variety of ways, not all of them always elegant or delicate, some of them perhaps even noisy. But we know of no way to drink tea ‘suspiciously’…And while cutting chai is permissible, now even fashionable, cutting corners with the law is not.” Justice Patel ruled.
Hersh Acharya cuts his chai glasses but rigorously keeps the law.
Pop-up: Ganesh Gully
Ganesh Chaturthi reigns as the most public and powerful of festivals in Bombay. Over 11 days, citizens and idols claim the streets of the city in bold and colourful displays.
Hersh Acharya captures and claims over a dozen Ganesh idols.