Bengalis favorite Durga Puja pandal-hopping goes virtual

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BY SOUDHRITI BHABANI
Kolkata, Oct 15 (IANS)
The Durga Puja festival has always been the greatest crowd-puller in West Bengal. But this year, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has redefined the lives of millions.
The religio-social-cultural phenomenon is known to be a city-wide installation art carnival that is Kolkata’s own version of the Venice Biennale.
But the world, this year, has moved indoors and online when staying home means staying alive. From groceries to education, business meetings to puja shopping – everything has gone online. The world has virtually started moving on e-platforms.
Responding to the need of the hour, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday inaugurated as many 10 Durga Pujas virtually from the state secretariat Nabanna, sending a clear message to the revelers to maintain physical distancing norms and to follow the essential Covid-19 safety protocols.
In a bid to home deliver happiness, the pandal-hopping experience is also set to go virtual this year in Bengal. Surprised? Don’t be. You can easily experience the pandal-panorama in the middle of a pandemic by just clicking on your mouse.
So, if you are passionate about Durga Puja even in the current situation, the trailblazing website eponymously named �The Puja App’ is here to take you on a virtual tour of around 50 top puja pandals in Kolkata. The application will offer 360-degree virtual coverage of famous puja pandals free of cost.
From the grand facade of the lavish pandals to the most intricate detailing of the artistry – everything will be viewable, literally at your fingertips.
“The Virtual Reality (VR) compatible visuals, shot entirely in ultra HD quality, will ensure a multiplex-like experience for the viewers. For that, no one needs to download any application. They can just visit the website www.thepujaapp.com and virtually enjoy the festive spirit of pandal-hopping,” said Soumya Mukherjee, one of the owners of the platform.
He said that currently it has been made available as a website and it requires no downloading. One can easily log-in with their smartphones, tabs, laptops or computers as the whole interface would be highly interactive.
“We have been doing this for the past eight years but this year the response is already phenomenal owing to the Covid-19 situation. People are really interested, especially the elderly citizens. People can also visit our archives as we have kept all the VR visuals of the past seven years in that section,” he said, adding that staying safe does not necessarily mean ‘staying away’.
With ‘The Puja App’, people can comfortably avoid crowd-intensive social togetherness during the five-day festive spell.
Durga Puja, the biggest festival of eastern India, has been made globally popular by its spectacular Kolkata brand of celebrations. This week-long sensory extravaganza is now India’s official nomination for a pride of place in the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ (ICH) list for 2020, recognised by UNESCO.
Temporary structures called pandals (marquees) are erected to house the clay idols of the deities. These makeshift marvels that are built to replicate famous architectural wonders from around the world or in keeping with innovative themes are stunningly realistic and intricate specimens of fine artistry, skilled craftsmanship and creativity.
The most remarkable aspect of these pandals is the number of man-hours, the months of planning and the elaborate efforts that go into creating an exhibition for just a 7-day showcasing. The primarily fabric-over-bamboo-scaffolding structures with ingenious embellishments are completely disposable.
“This experience is not just for Kolkatans but Bengalis sitting anywhere around the globe can go on a mesmerising journey that is free from crowds, expense and exhaustion, right from sitting in the comfort of their couch. We promise to be extensive in coverage this year as we understand many Bengalis, especially those settled abroad, won’t be able to visit their hometowns this year during Durga Puja. Thanks to the global Covid-19 pandemic,” said Arpan Chatterjee, the technical head of the ‘My Puja App’ platform.

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