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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Chronicling CR Park’s tryst with Durga Puja

The first Durga Puja in Delhi’s CR Park was held in 1970 opposite Market 1. In the course of the next few years, it was felt necessary to organise more pandals because of the increase in population. At present CR Park hosts close to 12-13 puja pandals.

delhi Updated: Oct 06, 2019 08:34 IST
Adrija Roychowdhury
Adrija Roychowdhury
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The south Delhi neighbourhood of Chittaranjan Park (CR Park)  is known for its Durga Puja pandals.
The south Delhi neighbourhood of Chittaranjan Park (CR Park) is known for its Durga Puja pandals. (HT Photo )
         

At 66, Sreemoti Chakrabarty has a near photographic memory of her first Durga Puja in Chittaranjan Park (CR Park) in 1971. The south Delhi neighbourhood had been created just a couple of years ago to accommodate those Bengalis who had lost out on land and property at East Bengal during the Partition.

“Puja was all about performing theatre and watching cinema in those days. We watched films screened in the pandal all through the night,” recalled Chakrabarty who retired as a professor from Delhi University.

In an attempt to document the past of the annual Bengali festival in Delhi’s ‘mini Bengal’, social activism group ‘Shapno Ekhon’ organised a neighbourhood museum at the E-block Durga puja pandal on Saturday.

The event put on display photographs from the 1970s and 80s of Durga Puja celebration in C R Park and held a discussion among old residents of the neighbourhood, idol makers and “dhaakis (drum players)” who have witnessed the transition in the way the festival is celebrated in the neighbourhood over the years.

The event was part of the “neighbourhood diaries” project conceived by the ‘Shapno Ekhon’ in 2016 with the objective of documenting the multifaceted history of C R Park.

“In the initial years of CR Park, there were just one or two pujas and we used to feel as if it was a family affair,” says Chakrabarty. Her memories are echoed by Niloj Acharya who says that “we have lost the community centric celebration of Durga Puja since there are so many of them here now”.

Bhog distribution in CR Park during a Durga Puja celebration in 1980s.
Bhog distribution in CR Park during a Durga Puja celebration in 1980s. ( Sourced )

The first Durga Puja in CR Park was held in 1970 opposite Market 1. In the course of the next few years, it was felt necessary to organise more pandals because of the increase in population. At present CR Park hosts close to 12-13 puja pandals.

The increase in the number of pujas, say residents, has been accompanied by a steady corporatisation of the festival as well, which reflects in the way art and culture associated with it has changed. “There was a time when two months before Durga Puja almost every terrace in C R Park would have residents rehearsing plays to be performed in the pandals,” says Ashish Ghosh, a veteran theatre personality who had moved to C R Park in the mid 1970s.

Ghosh adds that, local artists are no longer nurtured and only big celebrities are invited to perform.

Sharmila Sinha who moved to the neighbourhood in 1997 says that a similar change can be seen in the way people consume food during the puja as well. “Back in the 1990s, there were hardly any food stalls in the pandals,” says Sinha.

But the transition in the celebration of Durga puja in CR Park has also seen some positive aspects. Acharya says that “over time we have also become more environment conscious. Most pandals here are now trying to restrict usage of plastic and thermocol and have finally stopped immersion in the Yamuna.” he adds.

“Since there has been a paradigm shift in thinking and we are discussing so much about climate change in schools and colleges, the youth plays a crucial role,” says 18 year old Arya Ray. “The young generation is also joining the puja committees now and they have the power to make a positive change,” he says.