Come October and Rintu Das, an artist from Kolkata, is busy at work — getting pandals ready for Durga Puja. The pandal director is also the brain behind the unique themes for the Behala Barisha Club pandal in South Kolkata every year.
With celebrations across India continuing to be subdued, social media channels keep the festivities alive virtually via the view of well-decorated pandals. But at this pandal there is no use of any bold colours. The look and feel is very muted and greys have been used extensively.
‘Bhaager Maa,’ meaning the ‘mother divided’ is the theme that the club has chosen for this year.
Based on the subject of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the turmoil that migrant workers suffered during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is what the sculpture depicts. Speaking to The Better India, Rintu says, “There is so much tension all around. Questions about whether Maa will again have to be displaced are all very real. Will she be stuck between India and Bangladesh? Is her identity a question mark?”
While the concept and idea was Rintu’s, it was ably executed by Debayan Pramanik, Pratap Majumdar and Sumit Biswas — students at Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata.
Debayan, the 27-year-old artist who worked extensively on bringing this idea to fruition says, “While the work is mine the idea was germinated by my senior Rintu Das. He came to me with this image he had and we collaborated to make it happen. I started work on this in February 2021 and with COVID-19 acting as a dampener in-between, it took me almost 3.5 months to complete it.”
The sculpture is of a woman who is seen holding on to an idol of Durga while a few children seek refuge behind her. This throws light on her determination to continue the puja no matter what her personal circumstances might be. The idol of the goddess is symbolic of the plight of hundreds of mothers who have had to leave their dwellings and head for uncertainty.
Speaking about the idea, Rintu says, “In 1947, following the Partition, Bengal was divided, and during that period the Dhakeshwari Durga of Dhaka came to West Bengal and became Kumortuli. Seeing the political unrest in the region again, one is forced to ask whether something similar will happen again. Where will Maa go again?”
Rintu’s thought-provoking themes and ideas behind the Durga sculptures are quite popular with netizens. Last year, a statue to highlight the plight of migrant workers who were left without jobs and forced to walk hundreds of kilometres home was installed at the pandal. Carved by artist Pallab Bhowmick, it represented a mother as Goddess Durga along with her children – Goddess Lakshmi with an owl in her arms, Goddess Saraswati with a swan in her hand, and the young boy in her arms who signifies the God Kartikeya. A halo surrounded the mother and children with 10 hands – a traditional motif of Goddess Durga.
In order to be as close to reality as possible this year, Debayan used real models to recreate the idea. He says, “I requested my sister to be the main model and the kids you see in the final sculptures are modelled around kids from my neighbourhood. They were all kind enough to pose for me when I was conceptualising this final sculpture.”
“I only thought about a very tragic situation a mother finds herself in with her children, which arises due to no fault of hers.”
“Visuals from various movies I have seen over the years helped in my work,” he says and adds that he drew inspiration from two movies called Bishorjan, a National Award winner in 2017 and its sequel Bijoya (2019). He says, “It is essentially a love story, which in many ways is also tragic because of the circumstances that the protagonists find themselves in. Even the patriotic feeling that the movie invokes left a very indelible mark on my mind. While working on this sculpture I found myself being drawn by the visuals in the movies quite a bit.”
For artists like Debayan, being able to work on such projects is a dream come true. And even amidst the media attention given to this year’s creation, Rintu adds that he is already thinking of next year’s revolutionary theme.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)