28 October 2010

Nabomi Pandal Hopping: Behala and Shuruchi Shangha

Nabomi (literally 'Ninth Day') is the second to last day of the pujo, and it was the last day we spent pandal hopping. By this time, all the awards for the year have been announced and everyone knows the 'best' pandal of the year. For this year, it was Shuruchi Shangha; as such, we decided (along with everyone else in Kolkata) that this was the next on our must-see list. While we were in the area, we also went to three pandals in Behala: Behala Club Sarbojonin (open to all people), Naskar Sarbojonin, and Behala Natun Sangha.

Shuruchi Shangha

As I said, Shuruchi Shangha was this year's best pandal, according to the award team. Unfortunately, when we finally made it to the pandal, we'd been there for all of three minutes before it started pouring rain. Unlike in the US, when it pours rain in India, it means business. I was soaked within three minutes and entirely abandoned my umbrella to focus on saving my camera from getting soaked. I never did entirely dry. The only plus side of this is that the line literally evaporated; what would've been a two or three hour waiting period became a ten minute mad dash through mud puddles.

Once we reached the pandal, it was quite nice; still raining, but not so bad that I couldn't risk taking out my camera for a few shots. The pandal was gorgeous. It was split into a variety of structures, only one of which held the idol. Like so many other pandals this year, the pandal was based on South Indian architecture and artwork; unlike others, however, Shuruchi Shangha's pandal was built to resemble a south indian village. Almost all the buildings were crammed with pandal hoppers who were trying to avoid the rain, so I didn't get as close of a look at them as I would've liked.

The idol's building had elaborate artwork on the ceiling and walls. I'm not sure if it was hand-painted or printed -- the lines were so crisp that they look computer-designed rather than painted. The idol itself was another post-modern affair, with a moderately sized, heavily styled Durga who I thought looked vaguely androgynous. The other gods were much smaller than in most pandals, which was an interesting design decision. I wish I could've gotten a better look at it, but the guards forced us through and, just as with Telengabagan, yelled at me for taking pictures. As usual, I put on my best deaf American face and proceeded to take pictures anyways, but we hurried out before they remembered English. In summary, the pandal was very nice, but I'm not sure if it was the best I saw.

Prize: Most ambitious pandal.

Behala Club Sarbojonin

After trying to dry off from Shuruchi Sangha, we decided to head towards Behala to see the pandals there. Our first stop was Behala Club Sarbojonin (Sarbojonin means a club that's open to everyone), which was almost completely deserted due probably to its proximity to Shuruchi Sangha and the rain. I'm not entirely sure what sort of artwork they were aiming for in this pandal, but they executed it very well. The pandal had a long hallway, adorned with metal-painted models of tridents and spears, followed by a small courtyard. The courtyard had a large fountain shaped statue that was the centerpiece of the pandal, right in front of the idols. Since the pandal was mostly deserted, I took quite a few pictures of the artwork here, and it was hard to narrow down to just a few pictures. The idol continued the motif of metal-colored statues, with a vaguely bronzed look to all the idols. The idol at this pandal was one of my favorites of the pujo, due mostly to the lack of gaudy decorations and the seamless integration of color with the rest of the artwork.

Prize: Best metallic artwork.

Naskar Sarbojonin

Our next pandal, also located in Behala, was Naskar Sarbojonin. This pandal was made entirely out of painted bamboo, and the artwork had a vaguely African look to it (at least, to my eyes). The artwork here was incredible, and again, because of the rain, we had the pandal largely to ourselves. Throughout the pandal, they had a variety of extremely elaborate statues (made from painted bamboo) of people, horses, deer, trees, and more. I loved the general feel of the statuary in this pandal, particularly the horses, and the colors they chose for the bamboo artwork. The idol for this pandal was housed in a 'chariot,' drawn by the horse statues. Although the idol wasn't that fancy, the chariot concept was pretty neat.

Prize: Best statues.

Behala Natun Sangha

The final pandal we visited on Nabomi was Behala Natun Sangha. This pandal was in a more traditional style, with the pandal serving more as a house for the idol and less as an art exhibit. That being said, the house was still somewhat artistically decorated, but in less of a manner than Naskar Sarbojonin or Behala Club. The pillars and stairs in the pandal were decorated with paint dribbles, which vaguely reminded me of abstract american artwork -- I'm not sure if that was the intent with the style. Inside, the idol was one of the more shiny ones we saw during the pujo, with all the deities equipped with gigantic headdresses. At the entrance, they had a pair of statues of people welcoming guests to the pandal, which was a nice touch.

Prize: Most Jackson Pollack.

23 October 2010

Ashtomi: Salt Lake and more

Ashtomi (literally 'eighth day') is another big day for the pujo. There are events during the day and evening at the pandals, and it's typically the day when pandals have cultural programs for residents to show off acting, singing, or poetry. It's also a big day for pandal hopping, just like shoptomi and nobami. We visited quite a few pandals on Ashtomi, including: Jagari Shangha, Kalitala Sporting Club, Bosepukur Sitala, and Salt Lake Blocks HA, HB, AB, GB and, finally, Telengabagan. Even more pandals than on shoptomi.

Jagari Shangha

The Jagari Shangha was a very interesting pandal. Rather than trying to build the biggest or most opulent pandal, they built an extremely theme focused pandal on a narrow theme: Mangoes. The pandal was decorated with mangoes everywhere. I couldn't decide whether the mangoes were real, or wood/plastic reproductions, but all decorations consisted of mangoes or mango-related decorations. They had people carrying mangoes, mango trees, baskets of mangoes, mango-shaped doorways, and more. Outside the pandal they had a mini-encyclopedia listing of all the countries which grow mangoes, and how much they grow, along with other mango-facts. It was quite interesting (I had no idea that mangoes grow in the US), and very well done. The idol continued this theme, with Durga and the other idols presented in front of a mango forest and with giant mangoes behind them. There was a rumor that the idol for this pandal was actually made from mangoes, but I rather doubt it.

Prize: Most focused theme.

Kalitala Sporting Club

When we first arrived at the Kalitala Sporting Club pandal, I kept asking my wife where the pandal was -- I literally couldn't find it, even though it was right in front of me. It turns out that the Kalitala Sporting Club pandal was built to resemble a house, which means that it blended in with the neighborhood seamlessly. After days of seeing castles, temples, and even a boat for a pandal, finding one that looked like something as mundane as a house was quite the change. There were stairs (made from styrofoam -- don't take them), walls, balconies, and even doors, completely made from styrofoam. Outside, they had an area dedicated to Tagore's childhood home, complete with a statue. They also had a small area full of blossoming Kashful, which is a grass that's heavily associated with the Durga Pujo. The idol was nice, but it was hard to get to through the crowd -- we had arrived during one of the religious ceremonies, so the entire neighborhood was present. All in all, a tastefully understated pandal.

Prize: Most well-integrated pandal.

Bosepukur Sitala

Bosepukur Sitala was located a short-ish drive from the Kalitala Sporting Club pandal, but we had to walk forever to get there, due to road closures and heavy crowding. The Bosepukur Sitala had a very novel theme: Astrological signs. Along the walls, they had several symbols for the various traditional signs, along with the western and bengali symbols associated with the various signs. Much of the artwork in this pandal was based on the zodiac circle, which recurred many times inside the pandal as well as outside on an enormous statue. The idol was rather nice, in an understated manner. Unlike the opulent pandals we saw on Shoptomi, this one was rather normal in tone and had a nice symmetry. Also, it was normal sized and not twenty feet tall, like the idols at Ekdalia Evergreen and Shinghi Park.

Prize: Most geometric artwork.

Salt Lake HA Block

The Salt Lake HA Block pandal was heavily focused on basket-work. They had statues and chandeliers built from baskets, as well as decorations built from flat woven wicker, just like a basket. The outside of the pandal was built from the same materials, which was quite nice. Unfortunately, I was unable to get good pictures in the pandal, due to the difficult lighting conditions. I only had a handful that worked out. I loved the chandelier in this pandal -- the way the lights are occluded by the weaves of the baskets, and barely leak out, was incredible. My picture of this chandelier is one of my favorites from the entire pujo. I also liked the matte look of the idol, and the way the decorations matched the look.

Prize: Most photogenic chandelier.

Salt Lake HB Block

The Salt Lake HB Block pandal was very cool. Most the artwork in the HB block pandal was created from what appeared to be crushed glass bangles, which gave everything a very circular, brush-like appearance. Even the chandelier was created with this material, with hanging bangles acting (rather poorly) as light shades. A few pieces of art were painted, however, rather than made with this material, although even these had frames and other accents created from it. I can only imagine the number of glass bangles they went through to make this pandal. It was difficult to get a close look at the idol in this pandal, since we again arrived during a ceremony (this one involving a lot of drums), but it looks like the idol had very similar decorations.

Prize: Best glasswork.

Salt Lake AB Block

The Salt Lake AB Block pandal had a very organic feel to it. Rather than relying on paintings, opulent artwork or other staples of large pandals, the pandal was decorated with hand-painted and (apparently) hand-thrown ceramics. These were arranged along the walls, and the path through the pandal allowed you to get very close to the decorations. The idol room featured an incredible chandelier, too, made from coconuts with holes poked in them. Interspersed through these coconuts were a variety of palm leaves. This produced a rather nice diffuse lighting throughout the room, making for good pictures of the gorgeous idol. The idol was my favorite part of this pandal, with very life-like, realistic painting (Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi all have believable facial expressions!), and I loved the decorations around the idol. Quite nice.

Prize: Most photogenic idol.

Salt Lake GB Block

The Salt Lake GB Block is at a disadvantage in this review. The design elements of this pandal were very similar to those in the HA block pandal, complete with basket people and wicker design elements. If I had seen these two pandals in a different order, I'd probably feel much more inclined towards GB than HA. As it was, the GB block pandal seemed to be similar to the HA block pandal in all ways except for the idol. The GB block idol, rather than featuring wicker decorations around the gods, instead featured an earthenware, painted idol. The idol was very nice looking, although it did not completely match the rest of the pandal. I rather liked the flower decorations.

Prize: Most incongruous idol.


The Telengabagan pandal was a very different design than the other pandals I've seen. While almost all pujo pandals have different entrances and exits, Telengabagan was the only one we visited that was arranged in a circular manner rather than a rectangular. Most pandals have a large, open room, with the idol in one side and the entrance and exits on other sides. Telengabagan was completely circular. The idol was in the center, and there was a walkway around the edges. They actually had security guards literally pushing people through the pandal to get them to stop lingering (which made it very, very tricky to get pictures -- sometimes being able to feign a language barrier is useful). The idol at Telengabagan was also very different from other pandals; here, the idol was not clothed (although draped in a sheet), and the other idols were arranged in a circular manner. I'm not sure if the decorations are supposed to match any specific temples or art type, but the motif looked very south indian. The ceiling of the pandal was covered in reflective panels; if you look carefully, you may be able to find me in there.

Prize: Most post-modern.

Shoptomi Pandal Hopping: Too many pandals

Shoptomi (literally 'seventh day') is a big day for the pujo. Lots of activities at the local pandal, and the pandal hopping really picks up in Kolkata. The biggest crowds occur on Nobami (ninth day), but it's pretty bad even on Shoptomi. After our disastrous experience in north kolkata on Shoshti, we decided to stick with South Kolkata pandals on Shoptomi. As such, we made it to many, many more pandals, with a total of six that were really good: Jodhpur Park, EDF, Mudiali, Shivmandir, Shinghi Park, and Ekdalia Evergreen.

Jodhpur Park

My first daytime pandal was at Jodhpur park. This pandal was built to look like it had made out of legos, which was pretty cool. Various decorations around the pandal had pictures of Batman, Tom & Jerry, and more. They even had trees shaped like lego trees. I thought the concept was pretty cool, although it didn't look as sturdy as the other pandals we saw on Shosthi or Shoptomi. The lego look didn't extend into the idol, but the idol was pretty cool nonetheless: It had been deocrated to look like everything was made from clay. I loved the concept, although it didn't match the outside very much.

Prize: Most nostalgic.

EDF Pandal

My expert guide referred to this pandal as the 'pandal near EDF', without being more specific on the name. I'm rather sad that I don't know the exact pandal name, because it was an extremely well done pandal, one of my favorites of the pujo (for comparison, I took over 400 pictures here, while I took about 40 at east park circus). This pandal was based on artwork from the Shantinikiten area, which includes an arts-focused school founded by Tagore, the patron saint of Bengali literature and poetry. Not being from Bengal, I couldn't appreciate it with the same eye that my in-laws could. That being said, even to my untrained eye, the artwork in the pandal was incredible.

Outside the pandal they had a stature of Tagore, and tons of quotes from him. Inside, they had different kinds of artwork at different levels -- paintings on the ceiling, brasswork on the ground level, and other decorations on the wall. Very nice. I had a lot of trouble picking just three pictures for this pandal -- see my Shoptomi Picasa for more.

Prize: Best artwork, inside and out.


The Mudiali pandal was modeled after some sort of Indian castle. Again, I don't know if it was a specific castle, or just that sort of architecture. The inside was pretty nice, but the crowd was really picking up by this time and I didn't get much chance to explore it. The chandelier was very nice as well. According to my mother in law, Mudiali is very famous for the idol decorations, and the idol was definitely unique. It had all the classic elements of an idol, plus about a million peacocks. I didn't notice this when I visited the pandal, but rather when I got home and looked at my pictures from Shoptomi. I took a zoomed-in shot of Durga that was actually rather frighteningly full of peacocks.

Prize: Most overuse of a single decoration.


Shivmandir was located quite near to Mudiali, just down the block. Despite its proximity, we never did quite figure out how we got back to our car. Anyways, just down the road from Mudiali, we found what looked like an enormous tree stump, with a cave into it. This was the Shivmandir pandal, although I still haven't a clue what it's trying to look like (maybe a giant tree stump). Inside they had a somewhat spooky statue guarding the entrance, an area with stuffed bird and mock trees, and then the idol itself. The idol was very nice, but I never did figure out what exactly the theme was.

Prize: Most unusual theme.

Shinghi Park

Our next pandal was located at Shinghi Park. This pandal was shaped like the Golden Fortress, the primary Sikh temple, located in Amritsar. The internal decorations were very nice, although they tended towards tessellated patterns done in red. This decorative motif extended to the idol as well, which was absolutely enormous. Unlike some of the other Shoptomi pandals, this one was basically just a room with the idol in it. It was a well decorated room, but it lacked the statuary of the other large pandals.

Prize: Best non-hindu temple reproduction.

Ekdalia Evergreen

Our final pandal on Shoptomi was the Ekdalia Evergreen pandal, which was built to resemble temples from South India. The temple was gigantic (at least five stories, probably more like six-seven), but not as wide as the large pandals from Shealdah that we saw on shoshti. The exterior artwork was fantastic, with carvings depicting mythological stories and the exterior color spot-on for a weathered stone building. The weathered stone color looked completely incongruous in the Gariahat neighborhood, but it was quite nice. Also, unlike the other pandals, the name was written on the pandal in roman characters, which prevents me from asking my experts on how to spell things (but does not guarantee that I got it right). The idol was very nice and very colorful, but not as ornately decorated as the Shinghi Park idol nor as modern as the EDF idol.

Prize: Best exterior.