One of the defining features of Durga Puja is that it is about inclusion – everyone is welcome to the community pujas to participate, from non-Bengalis to even atheists. Taking this spirit of inclusion one step forward, Samaj Sebi Sangha which is in Ballygunge, Kolkata has dedicated their pandal to the visually impaired this year.
In the busy lanes leading up to Vivekananda Park in south Kolkata, it’s difficult to miss the bright yellow tactile path — usually seen at metro stations, but never at a pandal premise. However, at this pandal, it’s about making it easy for visually challenged people to enjoy the festivities with as much fervour as everyone else.
Although in most pandals, visitors are not allowed to touch art installations and artefacts – more often because the pandal committees fear vandalism — at this pandal, visually challenged devotees and visitors are treated to a different experience.
At the mouth of the path leading up to the pandal, is a huge façade of Ma Durga made from 22,000 screws. This special installation has been made by artist Pintu Sikhdar, allowing those who are visually impaired to touch and feel what others experience when they see an idol.
“We have always tried to use Durga Puja to pass on an important message and make it special for those who often don’t get to enjoy it fully. So, this year we tried to make a difference in the life of those who never get to see the grandeur of the festival,” Aniket Moitra, General Secretary of the Puja committee told indianexpress.com.
To ensure that the experience is as complete as possible, the organisers spoke to about 50 visually impaired students to get their inputs on their experiences on celebrating Durga Puja in a pandal and how they celebrate the festival. These inputs, in turn, have been made into a special audio presentation, which is being played at the pandal during the six days of the festival. Tollywood actor, Prasenjit Chatterjee has voiced this audio presentation.
“We hope that the visitors coming to the pandal can feel what those without eyesight feel during these days,” Moitra added.
Along the sides of the pandal, curators Sumi and Subhodeep Majumdar have installed panels with Braille that narrate the mantras and shlokas relevant to this festival. Collaborating with the members of the Braille press in Kolkata, the curators have also published a schedule for visually challenged visitors to inform them about the timings of the various rituals during the festival.
“We want to raise awareness and help the Braille press which is run by visually challenged people. We also want to help them financially to provide support,” the committee member added.
The other aim is to raise awareness about eye donation. Samaj Sebi has also collaborated with a social organisation – Voice of World, Behala and MP Birla Eye Bank to organise an eye donation camp. They expect to have at least 500 pledges during the festival. “In just two days we have managed to get the support of 60 people, and we are hopeful the number will only increase.”
And this Monday, Maha Shashti, as testament to the efforts and intentions of the puja committee and its curators and artists, it was heartening to see a group of visually impaired people walking into the pandal. Finally, they could enjoy the Durga Puja festival in all its splendour.