Cuttack, one of the ancient cities of the country, celebrates all religious festivals with equal enthusiasm. Whether it is Durga Puja, Eid or Christmas, the active participation of Hindus, Muslims and Christians in each other’s festivals reflects the deep-rooted communal harmony in the city. Dussehra is celebrated on a grand scale in Cuttack. But if the number of pandals is any indication, Ganesh Chaturthi, which will be celebrated September 2, is also catching up fast with Durga Puja in terms of scale of celebration. A major role in this is played by local clubs. Orissa POST visited some of the puja pandals in the city.
Nuapada, the eastern part of the city, boasts of large puja pandals and eye-catching arches coupled with attractive idols. They draw huge crowds till the immersion ceremony. Although a number of clubs in the area celebrate the festival, there have never been reports of any clashes among them so far. The clubs organise the celebrations on a grand scale not to gain fame, but to send a positive message about harmony and discipline, explained the members of a puja committee.
Talking about the Ganesh Puja festival, local resident Jassaswi Mohapatra said, “Freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, popularly known as Lokamanya, was a visionary. He realised that there is a need to unite all Indians to put up a strong fight against the British. Therefore, towards the end of 19th century, he successfully transformed the household celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi into the present-day carnival to build up a national spirit. It was also an attempt to bridge the gap between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. The popularity of the festival grew even after the British left the country. Here, the festival still renews the bond between different communities in this city.”
Rajanikanta Sahoo, a member of Dibyajyoti Club of Press Colony, Nuapada said, “Our club has been celebrating the festival for the last 28 years. We are an eight-member group and we belong to different professions. But we come together every year to celebrate the puja in a grand fashion. This year, we have a budget that exceeds Rs three lakhs. We pool our resources to organise the festival and don’t seek donations from the residents. The members contribute their share every month and a day after the immersion ceremony, we start planning for the next year. This is our way of unwinding after a year of hectic work.”
“We have developed a strong mutual bond which prevents money and work-related complications. All of us contribute voluntarily as per our capacity and have not faced any problem so far,” he added.
Baidyanath Swain, a member of Friends Club, said, “The distance between the puja pandals is not more than 10 metres. That speaks of the level of involvement of the people. The members of most of the clubs are very young but they earn their livelihood. No club asks people for donations. Moreover, the members work for a social cause when the need arises and help others.”
The evening hours see a steady growth in visitors to all pandals, he said. “Police work to maintain smooth traffic flow and the club volunteers take care of vehicle parking and road clearance. During Ganesh Puja, one can witness more than twenty replicas of popular temples, churches and palaces from around the world. The idols are also sculpted innovatively to catch the attention of the visitors.”
Deepak Pasayat, a member of Independence Club, said, “Officially, we have twenty-five members in our club. But every year, more youngsters participate in the club’s activities. Every club in our area tries to come up with a different and attractive design. This year, we have erected a replica of Russia’s Cathedral Church, which is 50 feet high, as a welcome arch. At least 20 workers worked round the clock for 30 days to design the arch using bamboo and cloth. Our focus was on creating an eye-catching and attractive pandal and we believe that the artisans have achieved the target.”
Royal Club at Nuapada has built a replica of the Royal Palace of Canada. The pandal, a visual treat, is 45 feet tall. Biswaroop Club at Nuapada has constructed a cottage of South Africa while PCC club is designing the idol in the form of Lord Jagannath. The Youngstar Club has put up a replica of the Kedarnath Temple and Bindas Club’s welcome arch represents the success of ISRO’s Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan.
Anshuman, a student of Class IX, said, “The Ganesh Puja is celebrated in a big way in our area. I love the cultural programmes of different clubs in the evenings. These clubs are spending a lot for the events. Many popular artists like Md Aziz, Abhijeet Sawant and Humane Sagar have performed here. Although the Puja is just a day-long affair, the celebration continues for seven more days. This year, more such popular artists will perform in the Nuapada area and I am looking forward to the programmes.”
“The clubs decorate the area like a bride,” said Banalata Bhuyan, a resident. “Many clubs offer free prasad to the visitors. Also, people enjoy the swings and different foods like ‘Dahibara’, ‘Gupchup’, and other locally prepared snacks and vegetarian fast food. People come here to sell toys which are in great demand during the festival.”
“The celebration of festivals in Cuttack supplements the earnings of many artisans. Irrespective of religion, everyone takes part in the festival and some earn their livelihood also. The most important part of the festival in Nuapada is that local folk performers make a decent earning during the immersion ceremony because many clubs in this area have shunned the use of DJs and prefer engaging folk artistes,” she added.
Spirit of togetherness
“Hindus and Muslims coexist peacefully in Cuttack. We all donate money for celebration of festivals, be it Ganesh Puja or Eid. Since we believe that there is just one religion and that is humanity, we don’t shy away from puja celebrations. Occasions like this only strengthen the bond between the two communities,” said 50-year old Md Nisad.
Muslims have been an integral part of Ganesh Puja festivities in Cuttack. There are many Muslim families who are engaged in the making of pandals during puja in the city. “It’s a celebration and there is no harm in observing the festival together. We actively participate to make it a grand success. We work hard so that all festivals can be celebrated with equal fervour,” said Saida Bibi who makes zari medhas (tableaux) for puja pandals in Cuttack.
In Cuttack’s Banka Bazar, many Muslim families work round the clock to decorate the zari medhas just before the start of puja season in the state. They design the backdrop for the idols of Lord Ganesha every year. The ornamental pieces are made using golden paper, glitter, mirrors, golden wires and thermocol, locally known as sola.
“We don’t allow communal feelings to grow in our communities. As Ganesh Puja is the beginning of the festival season here, we participate actively and work hard to make it a success,” said Amjad Khan, a tableaux designer. They also decorate tableaux during other Hindu festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Laxmi Puja and Kartika Puja.