They weave magic on canvas and create poetry with wood and clay. Over the last decade, they have helped turn puja pandals into virtual works of art. They have been riding on themes to produce dazzling decorations, innovative designs and even idols that are a departure from tradition, yet aesthetically brilliant. Artists of Kolkata have taken pandal decoration to the next level and they will continue to enthrall pandal-hoppers this October. At least a dozen senior artists and scores of other junior ones are engaged in designing and executing themes across the city this puja.
A platform for budding artists
While eminent artists like Sanatan Dinda and Amar Sarkar have already swung into action, giving shape to their unique concepts, others like Subrata Pandit, Sushanta Pal and Bhabotosh Sutar are ready to entertain with their mind-boggling innovations as well. Pandit, for instance, is ready with two themes for the pandals he will be working on this year.
It’s easy for trained artists to visualize and execute themes in a structured way, he says. “When I propose a theme, I know what material to use, what to design and how to do it. It helps make the theme more precise and the decorations aesthetic. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to do it without local artisans and those from the villages who are brilliant craftsmen,” Sanatan Dinda said.
Most of these artists have won several Shera Puja awards that boost their morale and egg them to outdo themselves the next year. And how do they get these ideas to sustain their creativity? Subrata Pandit tells Team M3.tv that he came up with the idea of Trinayan
that he is working on for a pandal
this year, from his childhood experience. He says every mother has a sixth sense that makes them protective about their children; Shakti
is just a manifestation of Mother Nature and her third eye is the source of her energy.
Amar Sarkar echoes Pandit. Ideas come from experience, he believes. The training Sarkar received at Government Art College, gave him the requisite confidence to experiment with ideas, fuse different art forms with Bengali handicrafts and dazzle the audience by using unique props.
Museum of Art
Pandal-hoppers have developed a taste for more serious art inside pandals, believes Sushanta Pal. “I have been working since 1998, when I was a student at the Government College of Art. Previously, themes would be rather crude with all kinds of unconventional material like long-playing records, nails and even coconut shells being used. The idea was to draw in the crowds with cheap innovation. Now, with artists like Dinda and Sutar coming in, designs have got more conventional and classy. Yet, they are admired by all,” said Pal.
Veteran Dinda, who had left Kolkata stunned with a Durga idol that seemed to be floating in air at Nalin Sarkar Street, is ready with two unique concepts this year. “Themes have got more cerebral over the years, which is a good sign. In Kolkata, we don’t have a museum of contemporary art. The puja pandals are where we can experiment and display our ideas. For us, the idols and the other props are installation art. And there could be no better occasion to present it to the people than the region’s biggest socio-cultural festival,” explained Dinda.
“Bengalis are the sixth most spread out race all over the world,” opines Parambrata Chatterjee. “This festival connects people all over the globe, somewhat like Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharasthra, but much much bigger. More like Mardi Gras. Bengalis of every religion and community come together to make the pandals. The artisans painting the Goddess might happen to be Muslim.” Why mess with it, is what he leaves unsaid in an interview to a national daily, explaining why he stays away from theme-pujo.
Preserving the Art
When Team M3.tv spoke with Amar Sarkar, he was visibly emotional. Expressing grief that the stupendous works of art are not conserved post Pujo revelry, Sarkar nearly breaks down as he laments, with a tinge of abhiman, that he rarely visits the area where the pandal once stood, three/four months after Pujo. It is unbearable to see one’s work taken apart.
Subrata Pandit however was optimistic. He says that he is able to sustain the longevity of his craft by selling it to Kali Puja organisers, or even Jagadhatri Pujo committees. Sometimes, big-budget Pujas from small towns also express interest in buying his work for next year’s Pujo.
Over the last few years, the Government of West Bengal has taken initiatives to preserve these works of art.
These beautiful creations deserve to be displayed in museums more permanent, and not be sacrificed a day after the Goddess leaves for her heavenly abode.