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Artist Debasis Barui stuck to social distancing installation at Barisha Sarbajanin Durgotsav

16 October, 2020 17:34:57
Artist Debasis Barui stuck to social distancing installation at Barisha Sarbajanin Durgotsav

Historically, Barisha is one of the oldest boroughs in Kolkata. The Sabarna Roy Choudhurys’, one of the oldest zamindar families of Bengal and the trustee of Kalighat Kali Temple lives in Barisha. The Durga Puja celebration of Sabarna Roy Choudhury family at Barisha was launched in 1610 by Laksmikanta Majumdar, making it the second oldest family Durga Puja in West Bengal. It was mostly a family affair. In 1949 however, a group of enthusiastic local youths started the Barisha Sarbojonin Durgotsab to include the residents of the locality. Over the years, the puja gained immense popularity. Now in its 72nd year, 2020 has been a whirlwind year so far, throwing unique challenges of survival. Amid all these impediments, senior artist Debasis Barui took the challenge and now he is racing against time to finish his project on time. 

Artist Debasis Barui

What were the initial difficulties he faced the club authorities contacted him and requested him to start work on this year’s Durga Puja? Debasis Babu said, “This year, initially we apprehended that there would be no Durga Puja. It was only about a month ago when the club authorities discussed the budget with me, and we got the clearance from the government to go ahead with Puja plans that I could start work. You see, I am used to doing large installation work for exhibitions and art galleries so it is no big deal for me to conceive  my theme quickly but owing to an  acute dearth of time, I had to tone down my usual requirements for such large installations and instead make do with substitutes. This year, instead of going for heavy metals  like iron, I  have used locally available raw materials which are easy to procure and also don’t make a deep hole in the pocket. Due to shortage of time and the pandemic situation, I could not get my team of artisans who hail from villages to work with me. Instead, I recruited local youths in the project. I explained to them what exactly I wanted and how I wanted it, and they tried their level-best to follow my directions. They have been working hard and like previous years, I am confident that this year’s installation will not disappoint viewers.” 

A glimpse of the last year's pandal

When asked about the theme this year, Barui said, “This year’s theme is called ‘Rupantar (Transformation).’ None of us in our lifetime had encountered anything like this pandemic before. The worldwide spread of Covid-19 has created a grim situation. The familiar world around us suddenly seems to transform into something sinister, eerie. Fear of death grips every human soul. We are creating walls around us to protect ourselves. Where has the camaraderie we have known all our lives gone? This struck a deep resonance within me. I decided to work on this aspect. Everything suddenly changed – the people we knew suddenly seemed unfamiliar, as they went past with their faces concealed behind masks like total strangers. Change is imminent and the universe itself is in a constant state of flux but when you are used to see something in a particular way and it is changed or transformed into something else suddenly, you are bound to react. This is not only true for human beings or relationships alone but inanimate objects as well. For instance, you see a banyan tree growing but over the years, aerial prop roots grow to support the ageing tree. Now that’s transformation! 

This year, I have widened my canvas to include the 12 ancient Shiva temples within the installation work. These exquisite terracotta temples underwent transformation and now they stand there, all concrete, white-washed structures. Only a few terracotta tablets may have been preserved. Now that’s also transformation! I have worked in layers this year, letting the space to viewers to see and interpret the theme the way they want to.


When asked about the number of footfalls he is expecting this year, Barui was non-committal. This year, all predictions can go topsy-turvy. We Bengalis have deep emotional attachment with Durga Puja. Besides, staying indoors for seven months at a stretch or going outdoors under strict regulations have had a deep impact on the masses. Durga Puja is an occasion when they just want to enjoy. The puja is like a ray of hope and joy at the end of a dark tunnel for many, especially the youngsters. 

Men at work (2020)

So, I shall not be surprised to see a sudden deluge of pandal hoppers. However, we have taken adequate precautions. In this year’s project, I have used a lot of empty space that lie outside the periphery of the installation. The 12 Shiva temples have also been used as part of the installation and that is how the entire area has been utilized. I have erected broad staircase to reach the core area. This creates a natural barrier, more room for free movement and thus creating social distancing among viewers. The club authorities too, are taking all precautions to control the crowd and manage the arrival and dispersal of crowd smoothly. All said and done, we all want and pray to the Goddess to ward of coronavirus from our lives and save humanity from pain and ultimate annihilation.

Story Tag:
  • Durga Puja, West Bengal

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