This year, the Kali Pujo in Kolkata, though as countless as on other years, somehow seemed to be to be an exhausted and even a bored affair. The celebrations of the Durga Puja has been raised to such an extent and level that it has been able to draw out, then accumulate and concentrate all the energies of Bengalis and eventually drain these out on its conclusion with the Lokkhi Pujo. Hence, the utterly tired, spent out, depleted Bengalis, sapped of all its energies sank into a lack lustre affair. However, there is no let up in the number of pujos held as this is a matter of commitment, once you start the pujo it cannot be given up.
Like in economics, so in celebrations, there is a process of democratization and then a process of the monopoly. The age of the CPM, notwithstanding that it was a communist regime, was also the age of democratization of the public space and its popular culture. Just as the monopoly of Uttam Kumar was compromised in the cinema, with Hindi films and a slew of other heroes entering the fray, the process seemed to have peaked in Basanta Bilap, 1977. In fact, the story is set in the Saraswati Puo Pandal.
The monopoly of the Durga Pujo was also democratized into a series of Kali pandals that fostered creativity both in the façade built by bamboo and cloth as well as in the idols of the Goddess, moulded and baked from clay. Then there was the supply of music, loud, fast paced erotic music of RD Burman and Asha Bhonsle, of Bappi Lahiri a little way down in the 1980’s and ofcourse the sensational Salil Choudhury and Lata Mangeshkar. The melody and the rhythm shook the chakras of the body releasing from it an energy where the human seeks her companions. Those were also the times of the crackers; with the upbeat music blaring on the streets and the smell of burnt sulphur enveloping the air, became intoxicating and exhilarating. But then, I was in my teens. My grandfather took to the Kali Pujo rather badly; not being one quite keen on pujos, for him any occupation of the public space, whether by way of processions or by celebrations was repulsive.
And then there was the immersion; the best of local bands played numbers from Hindi film songs of Laxmikant Pyarelal. The boys dressed in the latest fashion and hairstyle would dance to a frenzy making a lively spectacle on the roads. These days, however, girls have taken the role of the boys in Bengal as they dance with lithe movements, shimmying and swaying, they really claim the space for themselves.
Then came the environmentalists who complained of noise pollution and insisted on a ban on crackers; the latter also had a child labour angle to it. But these dented the excitement of the festival. Then there was the process of monopoly at play again especially with the duo of Rituparna Ghosh and Mamata Banerjee who returned to the Bengali its bourgeoise Jalsaghar and the luxury of poverty of Pather Panchali, Bengalis looked towards heritage again. And what could be better than the Durga Pujo with the huge fanfare that it has come to be.
But there was also the social media, where all kinds of discourses emerged. Some resisted the Kali Pujo by saying that the Diwali got all mixed up with it and then painstakingly, the Bengali mind was drawn into separating the two. The impact of such a sieving out is felt as the music played changes, with the weepy Ramprasadi Shyama Sangeet taking over the sizzling numbers of Asha and Lata. Then because there are no crackers, there is hardly any activity around the pandals. Pandal hopping has died down because of the been there and seen it all feeling after the hectic pandal marking during the Durga Pujo.
In short, there are two aspects to my observations; one is that the monopoly of the Durga Pujo over the community’s physical and mental energies have crashed the Kali Pujo and secondly, the multiplicity of discourses can crack up the public space; too much of critical thought can fracture the universals, the simple principle of post modernism.
P.S These days, the Chhath is celebrated with fanfare in Calcutta and across Bengal due to the rising Bihari immigration into the state. While this means that West Bengal is actually doing very well since all job opportunities appear to be concentrated here, one cannot help noticing the rise of the Jagaddhatri Pujo as a Bengali assertion over the Biharis. The Durga Pujo explodes the pandal artists, the Kali Pujo bursts the energies of the idol makers and the Jagaddhatri belongs to the lightmen. Considered as “the” pujo of the French territory of Chandannagore, the people made Jagaddhatri their Durga, celebrating her with the fanfare of lights exactly a month later.
The questions for media studies would be as follows:
- How should we study the phenomenon of the Durga Puja and the other public worship of images by erecting pandals on streets?
- Why did the Durga Pujo get so big? Does the changing politics of Bengal have something to do with this?
- The typical business cycles of monopoly and perfect competition and then again, a monopoly holds true also of culture. Do you agree?
- The choice of music, from the fast paced and excitable RD Burman to the folk and slower music shows the change in social taste in music which has a lot to do with the changing social composition of our demography and hence democracy.