This Kolkata community Puja welcomes the sightless to touch and feel the festivities

Durga Puja preparations
Kolkata: Artists make ‘alpana’ – graffiti – on a road ahead of Durga Puja, in Kolkata on Oct 8, 2018. (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

Kolkata, Oct 13 : As Bengal gets decked up in a shimmery jacket of lights to celebrate its biggest carnival in style, the organisers of a famous community Durga puja here have built their marquee with artefacts and elements dedicated to the visually impaired to help them experience the festive grandeur they otherwise miss out on.

The Samaj Sebi Sangha in south Kolkata’s Ballygunj area, that created a lot of buzz last year by creating the country’s then longest ‘Alpona’ (traditional street graffiti), is inviting people to its 73rd Durga Puja this year, to touch and feel the artwork.

Right at the entrance, a giant installation of goddess Durga’s face, made of 12,000 iron screws, welcomes the visitors. By touching the artwork, the visually challenged will get an idea about how the face of a traditional Durga idol looks like.

The marquee, designed by city-based artist couple Subhodip Majumdar and Sumi Majumdar, has a separate brailed path for the unsighted that would help them walk down to the main idol independently. Words like “Ma” and “Jai Ma Durga” are written in Braille on the inner walls.

The interior has been aesthetically decorated with artefacts made out of nails and thread, woodwork and paperwork using similar methods taught in the blind schools.

Atop the pandal is a face with hands covering the eyes that symbolises the hands as the eyes for the unsighted. Right below, two front panels depict the solar and lunar eclipses that signify giving back light to the blind.

The puja organisers said the unique theme was visualised earlier this year when the committee came in touch with a city based social organisation that works for the visually impaired and were moved by listening to the stories of their unfulfilled wishes centreing around the festival.

“Samaj Sebi always comes up with puja themes which have a social angle. So, when we interacted with the visually impaired, we found that the sightless feel tremendously left out during the festivities. So they mostly remain indoors and listen to the Puja commentaries on television or radio,” its General Secretary, Arijit Maitra, told IANS.

He said the theme also highlights the challenges faced by the sightless and attempts to raise mass awareness about the importance of eye donation.

“We thought if we can execute the concept properly it would be a great experience for the visually challenged. Our motive is also to create an awareness about the importance of eye donation among the common people who visit our marquee. It is the duty of those who can see to bring back the light in the life of the sightless,” he noted

The organisers have also tied up with four city-based blind schools – Southern Avenue’s Lighthouse For the Blind, Ramkrishna Mission Blind Boys’ Academy in South 24 Pargana district’s Narendrapur, Behala-based NGO the Voice of World and the Blind Person’s association – which are expected to bring at least 500 visually impaired persons to the marquee over the five day festivities.

“They would come to the puja through the special braille path and eat the ‘puja Bhog’ (offerings) with us on all five days. There will also be a special cultural performance by a group of 30 visibly challenged people from the NGO on Sashthi, the first day of Puja,” another member of the organising committee revealed, adding that every visually impaired person visiting the marquee will be given sheets with the puja itinerary, details of the concept of the puja and the Durga mantra in Braille.

The community puja that had depicted ‘lost childhood and caged youth’ as its theme last year by constructing cage-like structures made of iron rods, has also joined hands with the city-based MP Birla Eye Donation Camp to sensitise the visitors about the importance of eye donation.

Representatives from the institution will be present at the puja premises with pledge forms and certificates for those willing to donate their eyes after death.

“So far 10 visitors and 30 members from the puja committee have signed the forms,” the organisers said.

As an added attraction to the sightless and the common devotees alike, famous Bengali actor Prasenjit Sengupta, who played the role of a visually impaired in his last film “Drishtikone”, has lent his voice to the narrative that will be played in the marquee to chronicle the life experiences of those who cannot see the light of the day.

(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at [email protected])

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