Durga Puja Carnival – The Ground Reality

THe Durga Puja Carnival was a colourful and novel experience for all, but lack of information on Bengal's biggest festival caught several tourists confused and unaware.

An idol at the Carnival
Rolf Lindesay with his family seated at the Durga Puja Carnival

Maria had landed in Calcutta on the morning of October 23 along with a group of about 12 tourists. Maria and her friends from Netherlands were on their way to visit Sikkim and other north-east states after which they would go to Bhutan. A first-time visitor to India and Calcutta, Maria’s first experience of the city included getting caught in the middle of the Durga Puja Carnival on Red Road. With no knowledge or information about Durga Puja, Maria and her friends were dragged to the Carnival by their tour guide in the afternoon. “We didn’t know anything about this carnival or what it was about. Someone told me that this is the biggest festival here,” said Maria. Perry Koen from Germany was also taken aback by the chaos and confusion on the road. He made a video of cars passing in hundreds on Park Street to share with his friends back in Germany. “For you this may be normal, buts its unusual for us. We are not used to seeing so much congestion and confusion on the roads in Germany.” Perry, too, had landed in Calcutta on the morning of October 23 and was one among the handful of tourists seated in the foreign delegates enclosure at the carnival. Like Maria, Perry was also going to travel to the northeast and Bhutan.

The pavilion reserved for foreign delegates at the Durga Puja Carnival had only a handful of visitors seated there. Amazingly, several local people were seen sneaking into the pavilion and taking a seat at the back. The tourists, on the other hand, had no clue of what was going on in front of them. They could only appreciate some of the works of art and too pictures. They only surmised that this was some sort of festival being celebrated.

The Durga Puja Carnival organised by the West Bengal government was initiated to supposedly take Bengal’s biggest festival to the world. However, the message was lost somewhere in the crowd and noise. While the tourists are being allotted a special pavilion to sit in, they do not get a good view of whatever is happening. Unlike the Republic Day or Independence Day parades, the carnival processions walk the entire stretch of Red Road and put up a short performance in right in front of the CM’s podium. So, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has a good view, the actual guests of our country are being left out of all the fun. Although there are screens put up at various spots, the experience of a live performance is lost, as also the opportunity of taking good pictures. Eventually, even before half the programme was over, a large group of tourists left the venue.

Those who have idea about Indian culture, were pleased to see the riot of colours, but they lost interest soon as was evident from their faces. Rolf Lindesay from the Caribbean Islands, was in Calcutta with his wife and three daughters for the first time. Although he loved the colourful extravaganza, he seemed to lose interest soon as the crowd in front of the enclosure could hardly make things visible. However, like many others, Rolf, too, thought that this was the festival.

Although the carnival was a success from the point of view of the government, a lot of misinformation was conveyed to the world. Tourists left Calcutta thinking that Durga Puja is actually just a parade of dolls in different shapes and forms along with dancing and music. The religious, cultural and traditional concept of the festival was lost as guests were not briefed about the festival. Little did they know that the actual festival was over four days ago and this was just the closing event.

Baptiste, a young chap from France enjoyed the music and the sound of dhak. “The day I landed in Calcutta, I saw huge trucks carrying idols to the river and being immersed. At first I was a little disarrayed because I could not find my way out of the traffic and found it difficult to go from one place to another. Later, however, I enjoyed the music and dancing,” said the jolly Frenchman.