Immersions – Tradition and the Environment

Traditionally, Durga Puja ends with the immersion of the pandal images into a stream or river.  Once again, good has triumphed over evil, and Ma Durga and her children return to Mount Kailash and Durga’s consort, Lord Shiva.

Thousands and thousands of images are submerged each year!   There are serious environmental concerns in Kolkata regarding the dumping of so much debris (not to mention chemicals from today’s use of acrylic paints, etc.) into the Hooghly.  To alleviate these concerns, some communities or families now keep their clay images for several years before immersion.  Others have developed their own symbolic immersion of the goddess and do not submerge the pandal at all.   This year, a few media outlets reported that in some cities located along the banks of the Ganga river, all worshippers now submerge their images in man-made ponds instead of the river.

However, in Kolkata, many still chose to physically immerse their Durga pandal this year, and immersions began on October 3rd.  The following morning there was a massive reclamation and recycling effort.  The images in this post will show you some of the efforts being made at an area next to the Hooghly river that is called Babughat.

During the time set aside for immersions this year, convoys of trucks loaded with people and pandal images made their way to the river,  while musically accompanying their journey with drums and chanting.


DSC_0051The group of people packed into the truck above all work for the same corporation, and they had brought the company’s puja pandal.


DSC_0089Lots of dancing and music to honor Durga and her children before lifting the images out of the truck.



DSCN4408The company insisted that we join in the dance!  So here I am, happy to oblige, yet not exactly sure how to dance safely with my Nikon.


DSC_0191Notice the clay figures’ mouths – they had been fed some prasad, or religious offerings of food.  After being presented to the gods, prasad is then consumed by the worshippers.



The pandal is spun around several times, before its bearers carry the pandal into the water.

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The pandal is once again turned around several times, before Durga and her children are laid down gently into the water.

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The immersion is finished.

And, now for the reclamation —
In the morning we can see pandal parts floating down the river.

DSC_0264 DSC_0289The cleanup and recycling begins—








Television news teams on location at Babughat to report on the efforts to contain the pandal debris.


By 4pm, Babughat is completely free of debris and prepared for this evening’s immersions.


Just a few more pandals…..

This post is a gallery of Durga Puja pandal image highlights from our explorations of Kolkata pandals throughout the following three days of the holiday.   We admired some pandals for the beauty and creativity of their designs, and others for the mindbogglingly extensive craftsmanship that was required for their creation!

A South Kolkata pandal decorated entirely using braided jute.





A Central Kolkata gilded beauty –




With images that are highly realistic — this pandal is also non-traditional in the sense that it includes many other figures besides  the traditional scene of Durga, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, Mahisasura, and the Lion.  Gods such as Brahma are also present, in addition to several human and animal onlookers.

DSC_0449Durga’s lion atop Mahisharsura, the Buffalo Demon


Amazing chandelier!


In South Kolkata, a hybrid pandal of  peacock, boat, and stone temple



the “boat’s” interior decorations


DSC_0139A priest performs the traditional rites at the foot of this pandal’s Durga image.


Waiting in line to go inside this monumental pandal near College Street, the famous central Kolkata street of booksellers.

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The Durga pandal, surrounded by the stony-textured interior


The figures of this pandal also include a few image-makers, who are now forever putting the final touches on the pandal.


And out the exit we go!  In the larger pandals, it is often very difficult to stay for a long time and enjoy the Durga pandal images, due to the numbers of people visiting, and the often very tight crowd controls.  In a couple of the larger pandals that we visited, we spent over an hour reaching the inside of the pandal, only to have about ten seconds to look, before traffic volunteers directed us to the exit.   However, in many of the community pandals, we were welcome to sit and spend as much time as we wanted.


Enjoying the camaraderie and hospitality of a community pandal.





DSCN4043Stan and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and great conversation with the community members sponsoring this pandal near Park Circus.



Durga pandal of a central Kolkata home, where Stan and I were invited in to share a bounty of homemade traditional sweets.

Soon the end of this holiday will come, and Durga will return home, after the pandals are physically and/or ritually immersed in flowing water.

Durga Puja

This first day of Durga Puja is also known as Maha Shasthi, and during this day a series of rituals are performed to symbolically awaken Durga.  For more information on the rituals of Durga Puja and their timings, check out or

For today’s pandal-hopping, Stan and I decided to return to Kumartuli, particularly to view the final installation of Dilip-da’s Durga pandal at the Shovabazar Rajbari.

DSC_0005Waiting outside the Rajbari for the pandal viewing to begin later that evening.

DSC_0018First glimpse of Durga

DSC_0319The Durga pandal with all of the clothing, headdresses, jewelry and other props, except – Durga’s hands are yet to be holding their ten weapons.



Here’s the Ganesha, side by side with his earlier photo!

DSC_0115A short distance from the Shovabazar Rajbari was this mountain-themed pandal, studded with giant heads.  A few close-ups follow:




Inside, a contemporary rendition of the Durga scene using near life-sized figures (sadly, some other pandal hoppers’ heads are blocking my view of Kartik and Ganesha).

At the foot of this installation is a tiny traditional Durga pandal.



Around Kumartuli and pretty much everywhere in Kolkata, you will find advertisements using Durga to sell products and services.  These photos show ads selling underwear, health care, and food.




Another lotus-themed pandal!


This Durga has a cartoon-character quality.


DSC_0251   Fabulous chandelier


On our way back to the metro, we stopped to check out one more traditional community pandal, tucked into a lane.  It was full of energetic and exuberant children!   Their Durga is below.





When we peeked into some of the Kumartuli workshops, some image-makers were already hard at work on gigantic pandals for Kali Puja, which takes place in a few weeks’ time.





Beauty and Chaos

“Beauty and Chaos”  – one way to describe that which is Durga Puja!

We heard this phrase first from photographer Dev Nayak,  when Stan and I met him while undergoing some serious “pandal-hopping” with Partha Dey in South Kolkata.  Dev’s actually comment was, “Beauty and chaos, in India you can’t have one without the other!”

It’s Monday evening, the day before Durga Puja celebrations are in full force for the next five days.  Even so, as the evening progresses, the streets began to swell with people eager to preview this year’s creations.  Pandals (the name for the structures that are build to house the Durga Puja sculptures) are everywhere, in the numerous parks, jutting out into the street, tucked into every possible nook and cranny.


This most spectacular of spectacles could be likened to a combination of Disney World, Las Vegas, and Burning Man (sans nudity).  We saw everything from the grandest commercial extravaganzas to tiny, lovingly heartfelt private family shrines (the truth: these are my faves).  The estimate that I’d heard several times was upwards of 15000 Durga images in Kolkata alone!  Most pandals are sponsored by clubs and other local community organizations, with some sponsorship from local businesses.


The biggest, most elaborate pandals usually have snagged big corporate sponsorships, are themed, and often have renowned artists and designers at their organizational helms.  The planning for next year’s big-budget pandals begins almost immediately after the prior year’s celebrations!  There are also many sponsored pandal contests, with celebrities and other prominent personages as their judges.  At the heart of each pandal, somewhere within, often underneath a plethora of clothing, hair, props, and other decorations, are the clay, straw, and bamboo figures that brought me to Kolkata.

Enough chatter for the moment, yes?  Time to show you some pics!


Enter into a giant lotus with whirling imagery




Durga looms above it all

DSC_0248Insanely crafted, metal leaf-covered Buddhist temple-inspired pandal



A glimpse of a golden Durga inside


 Below is a pandal dedicated to late Bollywood actress Suchitra Sen, who died earlier this year.DSC_0065_01






A smaller, but charming pandal with figurative columns



I’ve been enjoying the chandeliers of each pandal – they are often over the top!


 Community-sponsored pandal



Walkway towards family puja pandal of a very sweet and welcoming retired doctor.


His Durga pandal is below.


And below is an example of some of the fabulously creative decorated walkways intended to entice viewers towards a pandal


More Durga Puja tomorrow……