Star-studded Durga Puja set to dazzle Mumbai

Mumbai, Oct 5 (IANS) Almost 90 years ago, a Durga Puja celebration was initiated on a small scale in Mumbai by Bengali goldsmiths. Today there are over 85 big marquees where the goddess is worshipped for five days - and in attendance are Bollywood celebrities and commoners alike.

The puja, beginning in right earnest from Sunday, sees most of the 1.2 million Bengalis living in Mumbai and adjoining Thane district revel in religious and cultural festivities. And other communities are not far behind.

While the biggest star-studded celebration will be witnessed at Bollywood playback singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya's Durga 'pandal' in Andheri, actress Rani Mukherji's celebration in nearby Santa Cruz will offer close competition.

The other important venues are Charni Road and Kalbadevi, both in south Mumbai along with those in suburbs like Bandra, Shivaji Park, Powai, Kandivli and Chembur. The organisers, however, say special security arrangements have been made.

"Durga Puja has now become an integral part of Mumbai's social and religious calendar," Prashant Kundu, the events director of south Mumbai's Durga Bari Samiti, pointing out that the celebrations started in 1920, told IANS.

"What began with just one Durga celebration - at Kalbadevi - organised by the Bengali goldsmiths and gold artisans, has now grown into 86 major (sarvajanik) public celebrations.

Of the 86, nearly a dozen are organised on a mega scale with budgets ranging from Rs.5 million to Rs.20 million, and the rest are budgeted between Rs.300,000 to Rs.2 million, Kundu said.

For the first time, the Durga Puja 'mandal' or organisers at Vashi, Navi Mumbai, has constructed a replica of the entire Belur Math near Kolkata.

One Durga Puja that many Bengalis throng to is held at the Ramkrishna Mission in Khar, a northwestern suburb. According to Kundu, it is the only place in Mumbai where 'Kumari Puja' is conducted and sees a pre-puberty girl being worshipped as Goddess Durga on the day of Ashtami.

Director Basu Chatterjee, who is the moving force behind the Bandra Durga Puja, said it was started by the legendary filmmaker Shakti Samanta several decades ago.

"I joined much later and am trying to contribute in my small way to carry forward the tradition," Chatterjee told IANS.

Bollywood, which has many Bengalis, is at the forefront of Durga puja celebrations in the city, Chatterjee said.

Adjoining Thane district has major Durga celebrations at Thane city, Vasai, Nala Sopara, Bhayander and Navi Mumbai.

The Pragati Club of Vasai has erected a 20-metre-high replica of the prayer hall of Belur Math.

Ten artisans from Kolkata, who have been specially brought here, have toiled on the project for the past six weeks and it is ready to be unveiled before the devotees, said club president Dipak Biswas, a retired scientist.

"Our effort is to offer a mix of religious devotion and cultural traditions, especially for the benefit of the new generation," said Biswas.

The evenings will see performances by eight top Bengali singers, including Shubhomita Bannerji and Anashuya Choudhuary, said Biswas.

The highlight of the Kali Wadis in Chembur will be a massive 25-metre tall replica of the renowned Kolkata landmark, the Victoria Memorial.

Actress Rani Mukherjee is carrying forward the tradition set by her grandfather Subodh Mukherjee. But her relative Joy Mukherjee and the chocolate-hero of the 1960s, Biswajit, also have their own Durga Pujas.

Biswas said as per tradition, all Durga Puja mandals organise free community lunches while a host of cultural and entertainment programmes mark the evenings.

Specialising in making huge idols of Goddess Durga, legendary idol maker Nimai Pal passed away last year, leaving behind his 45-year-old legacy with Amit.

It is he who has made the 4.5-metre tall idol of Goddess Durga at singer Abhijeet's pandal and also the four-metre tall idol at Rani Mukherjee's marquee in Santa Cruz.

Work on making Goddess Durga's idols started in late July after procuring five tonnes of special clay from Kolkata. The idols were made, dried in Mumbai's humid air, painted and decorated.

The delivery of idols to different venues started Wednesday, Amit told IANS. The biggest of the idols made by him, each five metres tall, are for Powai, Bandra, Shivaji Park and Kandivli.

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