In its 52nd year, the organisers of Durga Puja at Mohammad Ali Park are doing something for the first time — they have opted for a smaller ekchala idol.
With the pandemic playing havoc and sponsors yet to respond, the organisers have been forced to slash their budget to nearly one-fourth of the amount they used to collect in previous years. And the first casualty is the idol.
At Mohammad Ali Park, one of the biggest pujas on Central Avenue, idols would usually be around 20-22 feet in height. This year the height will not exceed 12ft.
“We have not received a single query from corporate sponsors for advertisements till now,” said Ashok Ojha, the joint secretary of Mohammad Ali Park puja committee. “Every year, nearly 90-95 per cent of our budget would be sourced from advertisements. Given the location and the grandeur, ours would be a natural choice for top-notch corporates. But this year it’s different.”
The decorators have been told to come up with a basic structure and for the first time the puja premises and the surroundings will not be illuminated by lights from Chandernagore.
“Kush Bera, an artisan from Midnapore who makes our idols, is yet to quote his fee. The decorators have said they need some amount to pay the labourers,” said a committee member. “It’s really difficult. We had no alternative but to opt for ekchala idols this year.”
Ekchala — or one arch — refers to the tradition of placing all idols and the demon against the backdrop of an arch.
While several pujas in Calcutta have stuck to the age-old ekchala tradition, at Mohammad Ali Park it has always been different. Alok Sen, a trained artist, would come up with theme-based idols every year. Following Sen’s death, the mantle passed on to Bera.
Last year, the Mohammad Ali Park puja was held in the courtyard of one of Calcutta’s oldest fire stations on Central Avenue. The venue had to be shifted because cracks had developed in the British-era reservoir under Mohammad Ali Park.
This year, too, the puja will be held on the fire station premises as the reservoir is yet to be repaired.
The relatively smaller area of the courtyard compared to the park makes the task easier for the organisers. With the budget tight, every evening members will meet and take stock of the amount left in the puja committee’s bank account.
“We are eagerly waiting to hear from the chief minister, who will meet representatives of various puja committees later this week,” Ojha said. “Our puja will happen and like every year there will be a message in our concept. I won’t say what’s that.”