For over five decades, he has been a rage amongst the Pujo organizers with his novel spectacles of lighting decorations to attract lakhs of people to the pandals. He is Sridhar Das, the pioneer of illuminations in Pujo.
Sridhar’s journey as a light artist started at a tender age of thirteen when he exhibited his skills with lights during Saraswati Pujo at his Narua school. He took the Jagadhatri Pujo lighting at Chandannagar to a new height thereafter. It was in 1965 when Sridhar’s works dazzled through College Square in Pujo and he never had to look back from there.
Innovation in both technology & ideation has been Das’s forte. Every year he produced new marvels with lights, be that Shyam Thapa’s bicycle kick goal at Kolkata derby or Maradona’s famous ‘hand of god goal’ or any other landmark social issues.
Sridhar’s works took him around the world including the India festival at Russia in 1985. At the famous Thames Festival London in 2003, his masterpiece ‘Mayur Pankshi’, an illuminated barge took the festival by storm, Das bagged a special certificate from the Mayor of London to his credit
An upright person by nature, Das has been a hot favourite among the Pujo organizers and commoners all along his career. Today, even at the age of seventy six, his face illuminates while flipping through those dazzling memories. Asian Paints Sharad Shamman salutes this magician of lights who took Pujo decorations some light years ahead.
Arpan Sardar of Das Para, Budge Budge, never had any formal training on art but from a tender age he had an instinctive aptitude towards the finer nuances of art & craft. Every year post monsoon while coming back from his school, he spent hours at his grandfather’s studio watching him make Durga idols.
Arpan was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and was admitted at Dr Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre &Research Institute. Along with his treatment Dr Arnab Gupta, the Director of the Hospital, encouraged Arpan’s flair for painting & artistry and arranged for a special auction of his paintings which fetched INR 2lacs for his treatment.
Along with his studies and treatment, he didn’t let his passion for making idols take a back seat. Arpan’s fortune favoured when one of his creations, a miniature Durga idol, was chosen by 66 Pally, as a special exhibit at their Pandal this year. He also won many accolades for this particular creation from one & all. This year, the budding artisan made four Durga Pratimas & a dozen of Shyama Pratimas all by himself.
Today, our hero stands confident of life and feels indebted to his doctors, family & the society for his second life. He longs for a formal training to pursue his career as an artisan. This story is of a triumphant dream & conviction over a killer disease. We, at Asian Paints Sharad Shamman, are confident that Arpan will surely go the distance to make a name for himself.
The story of Putul Maity is similar to any other Pujo organiser in the city, yet so very different. At a tender age of eight, she was brought to Asha Bhavan Centre, Uluberia, a home for the special children spearheaded by Padma Bhushan Dominique Lapiere. Putul is a victim of quadriparesis and is wheel chair bound with 95% physical disability. The agony of not being able to go pandal hopping prompted Putul to start Durga Pujo for her fellow mates at the Centre premises itself way back in 2013. Today the Pujo organised by the ‘Persons with Disability Forum’ at Asha Bhavan Centre, Kathalia village, is a ‘must visit’ destination in entire Uluberia sub division of Howrah district and about 150 odd special children enjoy Pujo in their own special ways here.
The detailing of the Pujo theme is done by Putul’s friends – Montu Mandal & Supriya Dolui at Asha Bhavan which can pose a serious challenge to the works of any professional theme artisan and Putul along with Sulekha, Supria & others manage the cultural programs every evening during Pujo. The committee headed by Putul also arranges for new clothes for all the students in the home from the Pujo fund.
“Disability is natural. We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something, organising Durga Pujo with all our differently abled friends gives us the strength that if we have a wish to do something, we can make ways for that’’ says Putul, in her early 20s now, with a smile of satisfaction on her face. Asian Paints Sharad Shamman salutes her spirit & respects her endeavours as a Pujo Organiser who is ready to take on the barriers of this world!
Nitaidas, a co-founder of a social welfare organization called HIVE India, along with his team, runs a 24X7 emergency response unit that relentlessly works through the year, rescuing and reuniting the lost with their families. He heads another unit of trained volunteers to support Police, Fire Brigade & Disaster Management deptt of Govt.
At the time of Durga Pujo, his responsibility increases manifold. His team works closely with the Kolkata Police. With ambulances and rescue teams spread across the city, they are on their toes through the festive days.
His first rescue during Pujo was two decades ago when he rescued a teenage girl & ensured her safe return with the help of KP. Now, he has a structured team which assists the Kolkata Police to bring back joy on the faces of the lost & ill fated. ‘It gives immense pleasure to me and my team when we see teary-eyed faces change to smiling ones after reuniting with their families’, says the man himself. At the age of 10, when Nitaidas rescued an ailing child from the jaws of death at Dhakuria lake, little did he know that this will eventually become his life!
The gorgeous decoration worn by the deity in the traditional Pujo pandals & Baadir Pujo are mostly done by either Sholar Saaj or Daaker Saaj. While Katwa in Burdwan district is the den for Shola works, Krishnanagar is carrying the legacy of Daaker Saaj industry for almost over centuries now. Since the beaten silver foil used to come from Germany those days by post or daak, the décor came to be named after it.
‘’There was a time when the daaker saaj business was almost on the verge of becoming extinct, but today Krishnanagar’s thirty odd Daak workshops have business round the year again’’, says Panchogopal Kar, a 3rd generation artist of Daaker Saaj. Panchugopal, in his sixties, is donning daaker saaj artistry as a hereditary profession and almost hundred families in & around Krishnanagar are attached to his business for their livelihood.
As a family, the Kars have been working with few of the most traditional Bonedi Baadi Pujos of Kolkata including the Dawn Baadi, Haat Khola Dutta Baadi & Srimani Baadi amongst others. The crafty Daaker Saaj of Maddox Square Pujo was once done by his father, Late Nemai Chandra Kar. Panchugopal recalls how as a teenager he used to accompany his father to Maddox Square. ‘’ Baba would work at the Maddox Square pandal overnight to bring that gaudy look of the Pratima with heavy ornate and as a child I was convinced that this has to be my profession someday’’ says the nostalgic man. Kar’s illustrious Daaker Saaj works travel beyond Kolkata Pujo to Mumbai, Raipur, Delhi & even Europe & US.
‘’Though many of the pandals where I have worked bagged many prizes including Asian Paints Sharad Shamman, I have always preferred to stay out of the limelight. But the unconditional love & respect that my profession has fetched me from the Pujo organizers & the families have more than made it up for not having any individual award”, said a visibly content Panchugopal keeping alongside his young son, Rajkumar, who is all set to carry the baton from his father.
Good triumphs over evil – that’s the essence of Durga Puja. But, have you ever witnessed this spirit come alive in front of your eyes? Biren Kalindi and his Chau dance troupe have been offering such soul-stirring experience across the nation & even beyond for last two decades.
Chau, a traditional form of war dance, was born in the red soils of Purulia. The signature beats of warcry on Dhol are accompanied by the mid-air twirls of the dancers wearing the characteristic masks made in Charida village. They narrate stories that are part of our culture. Episode from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, etc. form each “pala” of Chau & Biren has taken this art form to a new height of recognition. Biren’s father, Lambodar, was a performer in the group of Chau maestro, Padmasree Nepal Mahato. As a child, he always tried to emulate his father. Night after night, he used to watch his father’s performances, fascinated by its magnificence. He didn’t realise when Chau got ingrained in his soul.
Like most of the Chau artists Mahishasura Mardini remains Biren’s most favourite Pala. Biren’s performance of Durga saga has transcended all barriers of language and culture, across all states and on many international stages. Through the Mahishasura-Badh Pala, he succeeds in sending across the universal message – that evil is defeated by the power of good, everywhere, always.See less.