Kolkata's pandal extravaganza: Top 6 Durga Puja pandals in 2023
To make your pandal-hopping journey a bit smoother (unlike the traffic), we’ve curated a list of 6 must-visit pandals to ensure you don’t get lost in the labyrinthine paths of North and South Kolkata. Join us on this journey.
As the world eases into autumn's tranquillity, Bengalis stand geared up with their treasure trove of new attire, radios and hearts brimming with delight. The monotony of everyday existence, the 9-5 work shifts, now takes a pause, for five days of freedom and mirth. The year-long wait is over; Uma is finally home.
Which other Bengali festival is greater, grander, gorgeous than Durga Puja?
While mythologically and spiritually, the nine days of Navrati commemorate the divine feminine power over evil, Durga Puja, the UNESCO tagged Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity, is all about the tapestry of tradition and modernity, gastronomic delight, the quintessential laal-par-shada-shari(read:red-bordered white saree), the ever-zestful dhaker awaj, sparkling lights, sleepless nights, ullash (read: exuberance), sindoor khela (the playful act of smearing sindoor amidst married women), and homecoming.
The celebrations are already nearing their end. So, before the post-puja depression hits you, don’t forget to check out these 6 must-visit pandals of varied themes that are no less than art exhibitions!
Tradition and Nostalgia: the two inseparable strings that bind Kolkata since time immemorial. These two find the perfect balance in one of Kolkata's most ancient Durga Puja venues, Bagbazaar Sarbojanin Durgotsav.
Nestled for nearly a century in the heart of North Kolkata along the riverbanks, Bagbazar proudly carries a legacy spanning over a century. With ‘Desh-Bandhu’ Chittaranjan Das and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose serving as the Presidents, this barowari pujo(read: a pandal for all), which has been the backdrop of nationalism in the Pre-Independence times, is renowned for its unwavering commitment to preserving our rich heritage.
What distinguishes Baghbazar's iconic puja is its age-old customs and practices. Its timeless 'Ekchala Pratima' (idol) remains consistent in design, colour, and structure with rolling centuries, yet continues to retain its enduring popularity. Visitors here can savour the traditional puja rituals amid simple yet intricate decor that transports one back in time.
Kashi Bose Lane
Right after experiencing the traditional grandeur of Baghbazar Sarbojonin, reality would hit you really hard at Kashi Bose Lane. With a vivid interplay of red, white, and black hues, this pandal portrayed the heinous crime of girl child trafficking.
Upon entrance, our attention is captured by the heart-wrenching sight of a jute sack featuring the face of a girl child, with dozens of tiny hands and legs protruding from its confines. The theme perplexes us momentarily, yet it stirs our collective subconscious.
The pandal is an assemblage of varied metaphors–handprints of children, a round table of children being served to vultures, a bunch of tongues, Patachitra banners of 'Babu' figures and Chheledhora (read: kidnapper), a young woman gazing into a mirror, pondering whether she would choose to be born as a woman in her next life, a small section depicting a brothel, a colourless Durga Maa with her saree protecting her children, an open sky, a girl diving in search of freedom, and banners in various languages, all silently beseeching, ‘Save The Girl Child.’
Screaming excellence at every corner, Kashi Bose Lane proves to be an experience worth exploring this Sharodiya. The artists have undoubtedly done justice to the profound subject at hand.
Behala Notun Dal
How can one talk about Durga Puja and not mention its most cherished street food- Phuchka (the Bengal variant of Golgappa or Panipuri)? Utterly impossible!
Guess what; this year, Phuchka inspired the renowned South Kolkata pandal- Behala Notun Dal Club to craft a Durga Puja pandal celebrating its delectable spicy and sweet flavours. With the theme of ‘Tushti’ (contentment), the walls and ceiling of this splendid pandal are adorned with phuchkas and Donas (leaf plates), creating a mouthwatering ambience. The interiors also feature rolling pins, cane stands, boards, glass boxes, and more, all paying tribute to this street food.
Unquestionably, the author rushed to savour some 15-20 phuchkas after going out!
Located at the intersection of three prominent roads—Rashbehari Avenue, Monohar Pukur Road, and Mahanirban Road—lies the renowned Tridhara Sammilani Durgotsav, another renowned Durga Puja celebration in South Kolkata.
What began in 1947 amidst a humble and serene backdrop has evolved into a spectacle of 77 years that draws crowds in the hundreds of thousands. Each year, the organising committee dedicates itself to crafting creative and innovative pandals, resulting in memorable themes such as the traditional Terracotta style of Bishnupur in 2007, a faithful replica of the Mantrasala of the Padmanabhapuram Palace of Kerala in 2008, a detailed reproduction of the Daksheshwar Mahadev Temple in 2009, the 'Brahmo' theme in 2010, and a Rajasthani haveli in 2011.
This year, too, the pandal would amaze you with its theme of ‘Utshob’ (read: Festival). The interiors feature a beautiful idol crafted by the award-winning artist Gauranga Kuilya, electrical pipes, mosquito nets, iron structures and an intricate tapestry.
Undoubtedly; it manages to consistently rank as one of the finest Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata.
Ballygunge Cultural Association
As the name rightly suggests, the Ballygunge Cultural Association is known to portray themes with a strong inclination towards culture. This year, the pandal's theme is 'Kathaboli,' which beautifully depicts Bengal's art, culture, and history.
Stepping in its 73rd year, it showcases the revered poems of Rabindranath Tagore in its intricate design. The idol of Maa Durga has been crafted in a manner that pays homage to the traditional style of Bengal's 'pratima' artistry.
Located on Jatin Das Road in South Ballygunge, this pandal exudes a simplicity and traditional charm that transports visitors to the celebrations of yesteryears, marked by profound devotion and love for the goddess.
Naktala Udayan Sangha
Naktala Udayan Sangha consistently dazzles with its innovative, creative, and vibrant presentations, making it one of the premier Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata. Established in 1950, Naktala Udayan Sangha garnered media attention in 2003 when it transitioned from a traditional Durga Puja into a barowari celebration in South Kolkata.
Stepping into its 38th year, Naktala Udayan Sangha delves into the trials of displaced communities in the aftermath of the Partition of West Bengal. A sequel of 2021 and 2022’s Partition theme, the fictional 'Hridaypur' theme reflects the genuine struggle of individuals uncertain about finding acceptance in a new land. With heavy hearts, they resettled in various colonies around Naktala, thus the name 'Hridaypur,' loosely translated as ‘the land of hearts.’ The pandal's rustic allure is certain to captivate you with its subtle beauty.
Literature, art and Durga Maa are thus effortlessly woven together.
From cultural, societal, emotional, and historical perspectives to entertainment, Kolkata's pandals offer artistry at every turn. But well; the hour of parting draws near and the countdown to another year's wait begins. Wishing all our readers, a Subho Bijoya Dashami and a happy (with tears tucked in the corner) pandal hopping on the last day of Durga Puja!