An inclusive celebration: how this pandal in Kolkata is making Durga Puja festivities accessible to visually impaired devotees
This year, visually impaired people will celebrate Durga Puja with the same joy and zeal, thanks to Samaj Sebi Sangha Puja pandal in south Kolkata.
Festivals are a time of joy and laughter, but celebrations are often not inclusive. Though no one willingly wants to leave out a section of people, people with disabilities do not get to partake in the festivities as much as they would like to. But that is changing this Durga Puja in Kolkata.
Durga Puja is one of the most decorated and widely celebrated festivals in India, especially in West Bengal. After a pandal in the city decided to dedicate this year’s celebration to the sex workers of the city, another pandal has made sure that the visually impaired aren’t left behind in the celebrations either.
Samaj Sebi Sangha Puja, a 73-year-old organisation, is the reason for the joy of many visually impaired people in the city. The pandal has installed a huge face of goddess Durga that is made up of 12,000 iron screws so that a blind devotee can now feel the texture, as opposed to idols made of smooth clay. This one-of-a-kind idol is made by artist Pintu Sikhdar.
In a conversation with The Indian Express, Aniket Moitra, General Secretary of puja committee, said,
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 lives of those who never get to see the grandeur of the festival.
Usually, the devotees are never allowed to touch the idol for fear of vandalism.
A member of the puja committee said,
Atop the pandal is a face with hands covering the eyes, which symbolically show that the hands of the blind are their eyes. Right below this, there will be depictions of lunar and solar eclipses, where light is shown to leave one eye and enter another.
At the pandal’s entrance, the visually impaired visitors can feel the artwork made from nails and strings. Furthermore, the words “Ma” and “Jai Ma Durga” are engraved on the walls in braille. To make the pandal more accessible, people will be given a pamphlet in which the details of all the puja and Durga mantra will be written in braille.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Dilip Banerjee, former president of the pandal said,
Our artists have come up with these ideas after spending time with students of blind schools. Just as people who can see getting excited about Durga Puja when they see pandals coming up, the sound of sawing and nails being hammered into wooden planks makes the visually impaired realize that Puja is approaching.
The pandal’s motto for this year is to spread awareness about eye donation. They have collaborated with social organizations like Voice of World, Behala and MP Birla Eye Bank to organize a donation camp. The camp has seen 60 pledges so far in two days and expects 500 pledges by the end of Durga Puja.