Themes, lights, celebrities and crowd, Rishra is a close cousin of Chandernagore when it comes to Jagaddhatri Puja. The five-day grand festival and puja at Chandernagore attracts people from far and wide, but Rishra, just a station before Serampore, is not far behind. Even after the festivities have died down in Chandernagore and its neighbouring areas. Pandal-hoppers from Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, North 24-Parganas, Nadia and even Calcutta flock Rishra on Navami of Jagaddhatri Puja, the only day when puja is held in Rishra.
It all started with some aristocratic families worshipping the goddess, several years ago. However, by the end of the 1930s, community pujas sprang up in various parts of the town. But they were few in number and would adhere to traditions. The scenario has changed in the last two decades as the number of barowari pujas have increased manifold and they are no less grand than their counterparts in Chandernagore. According to local police, the official figure stands at 76 at present with another two dozen organised without police permission. The big budget puja committees are trying to attract people with innovative themes. “Unlike Chandernagore, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami pujas are held on one day in Rishra. The idol is kept for another three days before immersion and thousands come to pandal-hop in Rishra.The roads are chock-a-block and we can hardly step out of our houses,” said Anita Chatterjee, a resident of Rishra.
Dewanji Street Puja Committee turns 90 this year and is one of the oldest community pujas in Rishra. Despite being a community puja, the organisers maintain traditions. “Puja starts on Navami morning. All three days puja, Saptami, Ashtami and Navami are performed on the same day and the offerings (bhog) for each puja is separate. Apart from khichuri, fritters, vegetables, steamed rice, sukto, pulao, payesh, chutney are offered to the deity. We never take donations from people,” said Moni Mohan Bhattacharjee, a member of the puja committee. Though the puja is traditional, the immersion procession is a local attraction.
Dewanji Street Yuvak Sangha also organises a traditional puja but their immersion procession is a local attraction. This year the theme is on modes of transportation in different eras. “Models of a bullock cart, ship, car and aeroplane will be a part of our immersion procession,” said Joydeb Gargari, secretary of the puja committee.
Rishra Rabindra Sangha’s 30-year-old Jagaddhattri puja is Swapna (Dream). “It will be a transparent pandal. Glass painting done on transparent thick plastic sheets will be the walls of the pandal. A mystic background light will transport people to a fantasy world,” said Prasanta Pal, the theme-maker. Santanu Chatterjee, secretary of the puja committee said that expert electricians from Chandernagore will illuminate the pandal. “We have bagged the best puja organiser award for the last 12 years consecutively,” he said. Free drinking water, toilets for women and a medical team will be in place during puja.
Vivekananda Sporting Club has been organising theme puja for the last 39 years. They claimed to be the pioneers of theme puja in Rishra. This year’s theme is Debolok. Oil tins, paper rolls, fibre sheets, plywood and mineral water bottles are being used to design the theme on Heaven. “Many of our members are good artists and have designed this theme themselves,” said Supratim Mondal, a club member.
Alok Banerjee, a resident of Rishra Banstala said, “The main attraction of Chandernagore’s Jagaddhatri puja are the lights. The pioneer of this light was Shreedhar Das. But Rishra is now not lagging behind. Well-known lights espert Rampada Maji was born in Rishra. Though he is not living, the young band of electricians that he raised still mesmerise pandal-hoppers with their illumination.”
With an eye to ensure peaceful celebrations, police commissioner Piyus Pandey, Chandernagore Police Commissionerate, summoned a meeting at Maheswari Bhavan with all 76 puja committees. Totos and autos are banned from the roads municipal area during the puja days. A large number of police and civic volunteers will be deployed.