The first Durga Puja in the capital with the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic hopefully behind us, Delhi is raring for a grand five-day celebration with pandals, Ramlila processions and Khichuri bhog. The Indian Express explores pandals around the city to give you a taste of what to expect and where to go.
The Minto Road Kali Mandir has hosted one of the oldest Durga Pujas of Delhi, with the organising committee Minto Road Puja Samity (set up by just a few Bengali residents of the city in 1940) in the 82nd year of its existence. The Indian Express spoke to artists from Santiniketan, West Bengal who were putting the finishing touches on the idols at the pandalon Friday afternoon.
“All these idols are made of sand and the adornments have to be carved by hand on this material called Sholapith,” said an artist, pointing at the spongy white headdresses, necklaces and adornments found on most Durga idols during Navratre. “It’s a water-based plant that is dried in the sun and the wooden bark peeled off. Then you get this white material.”
KALI BARI MANDIR, MANDIR MARG
The Kali Bari Mandir came up in 1931 and is, again, one of the oldest and grandest pujas in Delhi. The first president of the organising committee was Subhas Chandra Bose. Musicians with dhols assembling outside the premises on Friday said that they have travelled from Mala village, West Bengal, and have been coming to these pujas in Delhi since they were kids.
“My father used to play the dhols at these pujos too, and I used to accompany him,” said Sushanto (32). “Most of us have been playing in Delhi for the past 10-15 years. He’s still playing at a different puja in Delhi.”
Suraj, another musician, said, “We didn’t come in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19, but around 200 dholwalehave come from our village this time. It’s the same number that came before the pandemic.”
Chittaranjan Park is the chaotic, delicious heart of Durga Puja festivities in Delhi, with several roads inside the locality getting so crowded and traffic-jammed that car entry is denied by late evening; you can only get in by foot. Approximately eight pandals are set up this year – in K block, B block, D block, E block, pocket 40, pocket 52, Shiv Mandir and the Mela ground (the biggest and most popular of them all). The Indian Express visited three of these to explore their preparations.
“We expect 50,000 to 60,000 people to come every day,” said a representative of the Mela Ground Samiti. “That was the average footfall per day before Covid-19.”
“There will be many more people who come this time around because of two years of no festivities,” said a representative of the Co-operative Ground Durga Puja Samity, which is in its 47th year. “We [K block] are the only pandal in CR Park with a theme. The sculptures around the premises are based on replicating the 200-300 years-old Zamindari house in West Bengal that used to host grand pujas.”
“We were afraid that this time’s festivities would be dampened because of the rain, but you see, no rain for the past few days,” said Baruneswar Bose, secretary-joint treasurer, Chittaranjan Park Milan Samity. “We were able to organise the prayer easily. Ye sab Maa ki kripa hai.”
Another pandal with a theme is the one in Matri Mandir, Safdarjung Enclave, Block B2. Designed around the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission in Belur Math, West Bengal, the pandal has been held at the same spot for 57 years and already had a host of dances, food items and knick-knacks ready to be sold on Friday evening.