Kolkata: This Durga Puja, Kolkata will be a lot less lit-up. Big-budget pujas in the city, which usually spend lakhs on decorative lighting, have decided to do away with brilliant illumination this year, both on account of monetary constraints in the current economic scenario and concerns over drawing crowds in the pandemic situation.
Theme and decorative lighting is a major attraction during Durga Puja and is primarily responsible for the crowd build-up after dusk when illumination comes into play.
Ekdalia Evergreen and Singhi Park Sarbojanin, two south Kolkata pujas located on either side of Gariahat Road, are among the top draws every year despite not going for elaborate ‘themes’ largely due to the massive light archways and array of spectacular lights on pavements leading to the pandals. But neither will go in for the brilliant lights this year.
“We usually spend Rs 10 lakh to Rs 12 lakh on lighting alone. This year, we will light up only the pandal, and that will mean a spend of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh,” said Gautam Mukherjee of Ekdalia Evergreen.
“Where’s the money to spend on lights? We are cutting corners everywhere and illumination has taken the deepest cut,” said Singhi Park Sarbojanin puja committee member Prashanta Sarkar.
Maddox Square, that has for decades been an adda and meeting point for pandal-hoppers, lights up the park and drapes the entire neighbourhood in fairy lights. But, this year, there won’t be any light at all; the club isn’t organising a community Durga Puja in its 85th year.
Illumination has always been the USP of north Kolkata’s College Square, where lakhs from the districts descend after dusk to watch the magnificent lights and their reflections shimmering in the tank’s water. This year, the lights will be muted. “We usually spend Rs 20 lakh on lights. But if local trains don’t run, there will be no visitors. What sense does it make to spend so much on lighting, when there will be none to see it,” said College Square general secretary Bikash Mazumdar.
The 102-year-old Baghbazar Sarbojanin usually lights up the roads all the way to the Shyambazar five-point crossing, Kumartuli and Girish Ghosh’s House on Central Avenue. This year, it has decided to cut down on illumination, although it will hold the fair that had been started in 1930 by Subhas Chandra Bose. “We will light up the ground but won’t go in for decorative lighting. The budget for lights will be halved from Rs 10 lakh,” said club general secretary Goutam Neogy.
At Md Ali Park, organisers have decided to tone down lighting, not only due to a tighter budget but because it won’t be in sync with the current situation. “We usually light up a stretch of Central Avenue but this year the lights will be fewer and the pandal smaller,” said puja committee joint secretary Ashok Ojha.
The impact of these decisions is being felt 50km away in Chandernagore, where light artists are spending their days in gloom as multiple puja organisers in Kolkata have cancelled contracts that usually sustain them for the rest of the year. There has been an almost 80% dip in their Puja earnings, which collectively amount to about Rs 14 crore every year. Orders haven’t come in from Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Delhi or Bihar either, forcing many workers to seek out alternative means of livelihood.
“A number of contracts haven’t materialised this year. We had pinned our hopes on Durga Puja but now, we are absolutely crestfallen. I am doing just two pujas this year, Sreebhumi Sporting Club and another Puja at Baranagar,” said light artist Babu Pal, who has in the past illuminated Amitabh Bacchan’s Mumbai residence and the Golden Temple in Amritsar.