It was a journey of fun and learning ' from the colours of celebration to the grey of slums ' as the young judges of Idea presents TTIS Choto Chokhe Boro Pujo, in association with GD Hospital and Diabetes Institute and the Alchemist Group, set out on a tour of more than 40 pujas across the city. Creativity, green quotient, safety and cleanliness are some of the criteria the students kept in mind as they rated the pujas.
Colourful swings made of bamboo, jute figures of Radha-Krishna and peacocks in every hue recreate Jhulan Utsav at Tala Barowari Durgotsab.
Artists were brought from Odisha to ensure authenticity in the decorations and Durga's ornaments. "Jhulan is the festival of love and is still celebrated in Mayapur, Nadia, Vrindavan and Odisha. But our youngsters don't know the importance of this festival. We are trying to revive it," said T.N. Basu, a member of Tala Barowari Durgotsab.
The colours spilled over to the next puja as well. Dum Dum Park Tarun Sangha Puja Committee celebrates Rang-Utsab-Durga-Srishti-Milan and the pandal replicates 1,100 overflowing tins of paint. "I like the fact that the flowing colours have been made with straw, papier m�ch� and lead-free colours. No plastic has been used," said Abon Gooptu, a Class V student at La Martiniere for Boys.
Last year's winner, Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra Puja Committee, has as its theme Alor Sandhane (in search of light). The pandal depicts a blazing sun, the ultimate source of light. "Light is the epitome of energy just as Durga is the epitome of power," said Prabir Mukhopadhyay, the president of Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra Puja Committee.
Around 7,500 human figures made of stems, leaves and thermocol depict how life is dependent on light. "If possible, I would have given 20 out of 10 to this puja," exclaimed Moitreya Chatterjee, a Class VII student at South Point School.
At Dum Dum Park Yubak Brinda, a giant honeycomb made with ready-to-fry savouries is the centrepiece. The path leading to the pandal is lined on both sides with sunflowers made of paper. The story of Krishna's life is depicted on the walls in Kirigami, an ancient paper art.
Lake Town Adhibasibrinda Sarbojanin Durgotsab 2012 recreates an old village with jute, straw and bamboo. "This is the 50th year, so we decided to go back in time. This is the kind of surroundings people who started this puja lived in," said Debasish Guha, a member of the puja committee.
The first stop on this route was Santoshpur Lake Pally, where a lotus-shaped pandal and a warm welcome awaited the children.
The organisers' attempt to send out a message of peace through the use of lotus, which stands for tranquillity, seemed to have been successful conveyed as Aalap Roy, a Class V student at St. Xavier's Collegiate School and one of the judges, appreciated how well the puja reflected peace and purity.
The goddess, in all her purity, stands ready to bless pandal-hoppers at Hindusthan Park Sarbojanin Durgotsab Committee as well, but not before they have travelled through a room of horror. The sense of relief at the end of the terror is amplified by the use of mirrors.
"When you are afraid, you think of God and your fears fade away at the thought of Devi Maa blessing you. That is what our theme tries to convey," said A. Roychoudhury, organising secretary, Hindustan Park Sarbojanin Durgotsab Committee.
At Garia Sarbojanin Durgotsav, popular as Garia Nabadurga, the goddess is depicted in nine avatars. The pandal made of sand is modelled after a Rajasthan temple.
The belief that God is present in every little things is what Naktala Udayan Sangha attempts to express. The pandal depicts the complete life cycle of a butterfly ' from a cocoon to a caterpillar to a colourful butterfly. The puja is also high on social responsibility, having donated a huge sum of money for children in need of open-heart surgery besides taking care of thalassaemic children.
From life cycle to cloning, the theme at Shibmandir Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samiti. "The theme appealed to me with its depth and execution," said Aashay Garg, a Class V student at South City International School. "Cleanliness and concern for environment make it a complete puja."
At Tridhara Sammilani, puja utensils made of brass have been used to create a huge Buddha.
The first stop on this route was Chetla Agrani Club with its theme Hriday Premer Shirsho. A giant wheel made entirely of aluminium funnels greets pandal-hoppers at the entrance, symbolising the cycle of life. The pandal's ceiling is made of around 100kg of plastic bags, to be recycled later, a point that was brought to the notice of the young judges by a green monitor from Earth Day Network, the green partner for the event.
Next, it was time to visit the puja at Babubagan, organised by the Dhakuria Sarbojanin Durgotsava Committee. The pandal is an intricate work of bamboo poles structured in the shape a pagoda in Bangkok. The idol inside is simple and serene in keeping the theme. "There is no theme as such. We are trying to depict the goddess in a traditional way," said organising committee member Somsankar Chatterjee. Soft LED blue and white lights have been installed for a serene ambience after sundown.
A fun round of antakshari in the car and several traffic halts later, the children reached Meenakshi Temple of Madurai, recreated with plywood and thermocol at Singhi Park Sarbojanin Durga Puja. The colourful pandal also scores with the presence of noiseless generators and a proper waste management system. "It is wonderful to see the growing awareness about the environment among puja organisers," said Debapriya Dutt, Earth Day Network outreach manager.
"We are having the time of our lives here. This really is a one-of-a-kind experience,"said Swapnayu Basuri, a Class VII student at Hemsheela Model School, Durgapur.
Shades of red, yellow, pink and orange shine bright at the first stop for the day ' Behala Nutan Dal. Flowers made with scraps of fluorescent cloth hang from semi-transparent nets in the pandal ' the instant feel is one of flowers being showered from the heavens. The theme: Pushpa Brishti.
An excited bunch of six kids got busy with the all-important task at hand ' judging. While some of them met the organisers with a barrage of questions, others paused to appreciate the pandal and the idol and yet others went click-click. Amid all the awe and appreciation, Priyanka Sarkar of Loreto, Sealdah, was quick to point out the not-so-good. "I loved the idol in the gorgeous red sari, but the dustbins could have been better placed," she said.
Barisha Yubak Brinda, the next destination, is a smooth blend of tradition with the contemporary in a delightful concoction. The fusion of puthichitra and modern art by artist Mihir Pal depicts images imprisoned in the pages of old manuscripts. Some of the kids found the theme and the depiction a little difficult to decipher and rushed to the organisers with queries aplenty. Somya Asawa of Class V at DPS, Ruby Park, was fascinated with the lights. "I have never seen actual oil lamps being used in lighting before. This is so beautiful."
Barisha Youth Club impressed with the use of discarded soft drink bottles, motorcycle tyres, scrap cycle parts and broken funnels to create a slum-like d�cor. Used kerosene bottles depict human faces and soft drink bottles have been lined up in chains to convey the missing sense of unity among people. A stone figure of a person with disability sits at the entrance with empty paint and oil cans ' a reminder of the undying zeal for life in the face of adversities. "Durga Puja is about humanity and the spirit of life, not lavish living. Slums are a part of our society and slum-dwellers have an equal right to enjoy the festival," said artist Soumik Guha Roy, the man behind the theme, Puja in Slums.
Text by Shweta Keshri, Disha Roychaudhuri, Neha Srivastava and Indrani Banerjee; pictures by Pabitra Das, Bhubaneswarananda Halder and Arnab Mondal