Tag Archives: Hooghly River

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.


Kumartuli – the first visit

On the morning of my second day in India, I had the great fortune to make my first trip to Kumartuli, which is a neighborhood of image-makers that is located slightly north of the center of Kolkata. Leading the way was the delightful Partha Dey, a Kolkata native and visual artist who was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Iowa a few years ago.

Our first stop was at the Shovabazar Rajbari (raj=king, bari=house) to meet Dilipda, a friend of Partha’s and the well-known sculptor who was currently in the process of creating the Durga  sculptural tableaux for the annual Shovabazar Rajbari’s Durga Puja celebrations.   He had already created his figures through the first stage of rough clay and straw formation, so we made arrangements for me to come back when Dilipda would begin his next stage of work.

Next we wandered through the main area of Kumartuli, with narrow streets such as this one,

typical kumartuli street/alley
lined with the workshops of many image-makers. Some workshops are tiny spaces, some are so narrow that we marveled at how the sculptors can gain any sort of perspective on the figures as they work! Look at the size of some these sculptures!

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In the time before I left for India, I had been concerned that I was arriving so close to the date of the celebrations that all of the images being made for Durga Puja would be so far underway that I would miss the chance to witness the whole process. Happily, these concerns were unfounded! Images were in every state of progress.

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The foundation of each image is built using split bamboo as a support structure, to which basic forms of straw wrapped with jute are added to make the rough figure.  Then a first layer of clay mixed with straw for strength, is added to the straw figure.  Once this dries, a second layer of smooth clay (in Kumartuli, this clay is taken from the banks of the Hooghly river) is added to the image to allow for more  refinement and detailing.  The photo below depicts this difference between clay/straw and smooth clay layers in two Ganesha images.


Workshops are everywhere, in houses, shops, street side, and even right next to the train tracks.



So at this point, some may ask, ”Who is Durga?”  And, “Why is all of this work being done on her behalf?”  IMG_1555

As described by Nilima Chitgopekar in The Book of Durga, “Myths associated with her (Durga’s) origin name her as Shakti—the female manifestation of cosmic energy—created by the fusion of the fierce energies of all the male gods and stronger than their combined strength.  She is the scourge of demons, as she is protectress of the realms of gods and humans.  Her anger is terrifying, her lust for victory in war overwhelming, on the battlefield she is merciless, even savage.  Yet she may just as easily transform into the consort of Shiva, daughter of the mountains, sister of the gods, or mother of her four children and of all mankind.”

I’m excited to learn more in the coming weeks before Durga Puja.