Bengal: When economics, culture, religion and politics come together in a pandal
Durga Puja is celebrated across India in various forms, but there is no Pujo like the one marked in West Bengal, home to perhaps the world’s largest public arts carnival during the festive season. With a dip in Covid-19 cases and positive market sentiment, Bengal’s economy is hoping to make a strong comeback, riding on the ten-day festival that is as much a cultural marker as a religious one. A recently released British Council report, Mapping the Creative Economy around Durga Puja 2019, pegged the total economic worth of the creative industries around the festival (pre-pandemic) at an estimated ₹32,377 crore annually, which is 2.58% of Bengal’s GSDP. The study evaluated 10 creative industries (for example, installation, art and decoration, idol-making, lighting and illumination, literature and publishing, and others) that drive Durga Puja and provide employment and income to artists and artisans labourers. The report estimated at that at least 36,000 community pujas are held across the state.
What sets Durga Puja apart from many other similar large-format festivals across the country, such as Diwali in the North, Pongal in the South, Ganesh Puja in the West, and Bihu in the Northeast, is not just its economic impact, but its unique theme pandals (something seen to a much lesser scale in the golus or kolus of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where dolls are displayed on the nine days of Navaratri). This year, in Bengal, many socio-economic and environment-related themes have been on display: From the nationwide farm protests to Lakhimpur Kheri to demonstrations against the National Register of Citizens to Cyclone Yaas to “Khela Hobe”, pandals capture almost all pressing issues of the day. Theme pujas are not restricted just to Kolkata; they are also gaining a foothold in the rural areas. Other than, of course, these theme pandals being huge crowd pullers (the competition among clubs is intense) and works of art, these pandals are also an attempt to deliver a message that has relevance beyond the pujas.