Of late, Durga Puja has not only limited itself to religious rituals and traditional know-how but also expanded its horizon – the Durga Puja pandals are known to be modelled on various themes that address a range of social issues starting from environmental awareness to equal food distribution.
It would not be wrong to say social issues are gradually emerging as a central theme for many popular puja pandals. Carrying the tradition forward, Guwahati’s Lakhimandir Durga Puja has decided to cover two important issues that concern the state – the myth of xupadhora (child abductors) and man-animal conflict.
Earlier this year, two friends – Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das – were killed in Karbi Anglong by an irate mob on the suspicion of being Xupadhoras. The myth of Xupadhora, a folktale from Assam, paints a picture of child abductors being people who are outsiders and who do not fit society’s expectation of an “average person”.
As problematic as it sounds, Bhagyaram Terang, who is in charge of the decorations at Lakhi Mandir Puja Pandal told indianexpress.com, “It is an issue that cannot be solved by discussions in AC rooms. We have to wake up and get up from our plush leather beds and sofas and talk to the people. People who spread these rumours are everywhere. People who pass down these stories are everywhere. So talk about it in places where you will find people from every class, every caste, every section of the society. And what better than a Durga Puja Pandal to address these issues at large?”
The waterfall which is undergoing construction is around 25 feet in height and around 200 feet in length. “The Abhi-Neel waterfall is the attraction, yes, but the theme is modelled on the myth of xupadhoras. We have to talk about things that need reform”, he added.
The other theme the pandal will focus on this year is man-animal conflict. While 671 human lives were lost due to man-animal conflict in Assam since 2011, only last year, the state witnessed a total of 70 elephants deaths – the causes of which vary from train accidents to poisoning and electrocution. Then again, 239 one-horned rhinos were killed by poachers in Assam from 2001 to 2016.
“Not many people know about it. Yes, of course, people who are journalists or people have access to a newspaper would know. But how do you take these issues to people who cannot afford to consume the news through a newspaper or even a radio? How do you transfer it from the AC rooms to the rickshawallas?”, Terang questions. “That’s why we chose this as a theme for our Durga Puja”, he says.