The City of Joy is in its complete splendid glory right now - the lights are twinkling, the nights have become longer, the pandals are set up and the blessings of Goddess Durga are enveloping the city.
Every year on Durga pooja, the pandals for the idols have a theme - it could range from movie inspirations and social causes to dedications to cultures and traditions of different states. This year, out of the hundreds of pandals in Kolkata and all over the country, we found three that stood out. All of them have one thing in common - they're all an ode to the marginalised communities of India. These pandals gave a tribute to the third gender, the physically disabled and the community of sex workers and their efforts were touching.
This pandal has a 350-feet-long street art dedicated to the rights of sex workers. The Sonagachi district is one of the oldest red light areas of Kolkata and is also said to be Asia's largest. For Durga pooja, it is auspicious that the idols of Goddess Durga, along with Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya, are created with the right mixture of mud from the banks of the Hoogly, cow dung, cow urine and a handful of sacred soil from the Sonagachi brothels.
Image Source: Instagram
Talking exclusively to POPxo, Debarjoon Kar, the curator of the graffiti said, "This pooja organised by Ahiritola Yubakbrinda is adjacent to Asia’s biggest red light area known as Sonagachi. The organisers have been growing up in this locality watching the life struggles of sex workers, so the committee decided to showcase their life and portray the demand of work rights of the sex workers. Sex workers are always neglected in the society. Today, it is our duty to include all who have been always cornered."
He even spoke about the message behind the graffiti and why they chose it as a medium of expression, saying, "The 350-foot graffiti showcases the life story of a sex worker through vividly painted strokes of colours. We wanted to use the street because all the changes in the society have come due to the demands made on the streets. Thus, we raised their voice for basic rights in our country which has hardly been heard."
The committee came together and tried to take a step towards inclusivity, but obviously, there's still a long way to go. The sex worker community were excited and supported the movement whole-heartedly, Debrjoon added.
Another pandal that has made an impression this year is the one dedicated to the transgender community. The Barabagan Cultural Association in Kolkata has taken the decision to raise awareness about the rights of the third gender that's often marginalised in the country.
Image Source- Facebook
The pandal is self-financed or works in sponsorship by the members of the community. Moreover, the idol was created by transgender men. Marginalised communities usually get sidelined during festivities and are subjected to harassment, so this pandal was an effort to make them feel safe.
It celebrates the Ardhnareshwar form of the deities, which is half man and half woman. It is a beautiful way of using culture and religion to shed light on the LGBTQ rights and the Supreme Court's recent verdict of decriminalising of Section 377. The deities do not discriminate between sexual preferences, genders, and identities, then why should we?
Image Source- Facebook
The Samaj Sebi Sangha Puja is a 73-year-old organisation in Kolkata. This year for the visually impaired, the pandal has installed a huge face of Goddess Durga that is made up of 12,000 iron screws so that a blind devotee can now feel the texture, as opposed to idols made of smooth clay. This one-of-a-kind idol is made by artist Pintu Sikhdar.
Image Source- Shutterstock
At the top, the pandal is a face with hands covering the eyes, which symbolically represents that the eyes of the blind are actually their hands. And right below, there are depictions of the lunar and solar eclipses, where light is shown to leave one eye and enter the other.
The words 'Ma' and 'Jai Ma Durga' are also engraved in braille on the walls. To make it even easier, people have been given pamphlets in which the details of all the poojas and mantras are written in braille. The main aim is to spread awareness about eye donation and it has already seen many people take the pledge.
So this festive season, let's remember to include other communities and celebrate all together as a people.
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