Bengaluru Bengalis are beyond excited to soak up the pujo vibes again after two years. Around 109 pujo pandals have mushroomed across the length and breadth of the IT city. The charm and excitement of pandal hopping is back.

While pujo pandals in Kolkata have huge crowds and attention-grabbing themes, Bangalore pandals pale in comparison. The various associations involved focus more on idols, puja and various entertainments.

They try to get music groups from West Bengal that will wow the audience. Some of them charge Rs 65,000 to Rs 120,000 per gig, if on previous records.

The food stalls that pop up during the four days of the Pujo are another attraction of the pandals for both Bengalis and locals.

Pandals, a temporary structure usually erected to honor a god or goddess, are probably the last thing they invest in.

However, Bengaluru has several Bengali associations that have forts (read pandal). BARSHA (Bengali Association for Residents of Sarjapur and HSR Layout Area) this year created pandal decorations at Hindu monuments like India Gate and Vidhana Soudha.

RT Nagar Sarbajanin Durga Puja Samiti has dedicated their pandal decorations to eco-friendly material – jute. The Bengali Association on Assaye Road presents ornaments dedicated to Bengali village life – Amar Bangla, Gram Bangla.

The paintings are influenced by the art of Jamini Roy and the themes are gods, goddesses and rural themes. But it is not a pandal but mainly an interior decoration.

The most amazing and heart-warming pandal is the Oikotan Pujo pandal, which has a replica of Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the ancestral home of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Those in the great man’s house feel that sameness at the entrance. Green windows with semicircular arched window frames, colored patches reminiscent of framed stained glass, and black and white striped floor paint are almost replicas. The place where the idols are kept is like the verandah at Jorasanko Thakur Bari.

There are informative pictures of the historical attractions of Kolkata. The walls of the pandal are decorated with paintings in the kali bari patta chitra style. Each painting takes two days or more depending on the complexity of the painting.

Materials and artists were brought from Calcutta. The entire pandal took about 55 days to set up! The team was led by pandal artist Suraj Bhattacharaya. A graphic designer by profession, he is passionate about the culture of Kolkata and tries to portray them through art, in the process trying to create awareness among the younger generation. In 2019, he decorated the pandal in the “Oikotan” association. The theme was based on Chau dances at that time.

According to Indrajit Bose, who is part of the pujo committee at Aikotan, they dedicated the pandal to the cultural wealth of Kolkata and named it Fire Dexo Kolkata. “The present generation will never know what the Kolkata of yesteryear was like,” he laments.

The ‘hath tana’ (hand-pulled) rickshaws enthralled the children visiting the pandal. The concept of a man pulling a rickshaw with people sitting on it came as a surprise to them as they had never seen such a situation on Bangalore roads.

So, what is done with the rickshaw models and artworks after the puja is over is what makes the visitors think. The sight is so authentic that they don’t have the heart to dismantle the rickshaws or ruin the art. Some even expressed their desire to buy them.

Suraj hopes to come again in the next Pujo with a new theme, new designs. Perhaps more pujo associations tend to create more pandal themes. As this trend continues to gradually take Kolkata, West Bengal to Bangalore, the memories of that era will never fade.

(Indrani Ghose is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bangalore, India.)

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