At a time when global warming and high pollution levels have emerged as major challenges for policy planners worldwide, a number of community Durga Puja organisers in and around Kolkata have come up with green themes to spread awareness about a clean environment among the public.
Children and adults alike can enjoy the feeling of passing through a sanctuary at "Dinosaur Park" that has been simulated with high quality light and sound effects in Salt Lake City's FD Block marquee, while the Beliaghata Sandhani club has protested against the killing of tigers and underscored the need for conservation of the big cat with its "Tarjon Garjon" (Roar of the Tiger) theme.
Delivering a message about reusing plastics and not littering it everywhere, the "When Useless Becomes Useful" theme finds prominence in the marquee of Kankulia and Fern Road Community Durga Puja. Organisers of the Patuli community Durga Puja festival, on the other hand, have showcased "Go Green with Development" in the marquee.
Dum Dum Park Sarbojonin's marquee on the "Ujan thele Chalo nao, Pakhira bole moder praan bachao" (Row the boat upstream, birds are crying for their lives) theme is a telling reminder about the species of birds which are facing extinction due to radiation emitting from mobile towers and the destruction of their nests due to the felling of trees.
The "Nirmal Bangla" (Clean Bengal) project has been highlighted by the Ashwininagar Bandhu Mahal Club, which has created a canvas using mostly nails.
Dwelling on green themes presents a win-win scenario for organisers as they are usually big hits with the spectators, who empathise with the marquee's concern about environmental degradation through the themes, which also bring in the prizes.
Ten years ago, FD Block in Salt Lake had started the trend of promoting environment-related themes at community Puja marquees. Since then, green theme Pujas have been gradually changing the face of Bengal's and perhaps India's biggest carnival.
"About 10 years back, environment-based themes in community Pujas were hardly noticed. But, the growing number of green themes over the past few years is not only encouraging but also instrumental in developing environment consciousness among school children and college goers," Calcutta University's Professor of Environment Sciences Aniruddha Mukhopadhyay said.
Mukhopadhyay, who has been following the evolution of the environment-based themes since 2007, as a jury member of an award for green community Pujas -- Serader Sera Nirmal Pujo Puroskar -- said varied themes describing the menace of global warming, climate change, pollution, crop diversity and bio-diversity, conservation of forests, medicinal plants, the marine ecosystem and recycling of waste have made their presence felt at marquees across the city.
Topics such as safety and disaster management have also been turned into Puja themes.
Mukhopadhyay, however, called for the development of year-long green neighbourhood programmes in order to extend the boundaries, instead of remaining confined to the marquees.
"Showcasing green themes during festive days and eco-friendly activities within the Puja premises will not be enough. The crucial thing is how the Puja organisers are able to transform the five-day green activities into actions for 365 days and extend the boundaries to entire the locality to make it sabuj para (green neighbourhood)," Mukhopadhyay told IANS.
West Bengal Pollution Control Board Chairman Kalyan Rudra pointed out that the flipside of such a big carnival is that colossal waste, including of non-biodegradable material, is generated and electricity consumption surges as thousands of lights are installed in and around the marquees across the city during the festival days. Even trees are trimmed for displaying hoardings and advertisements.
"It will be painful if the Puja organisers do not pay enough attention on these issues. This year, we are issuing an advisory to at least 200 community Pujas across districts to create awareness for environment protection. We have also urged the district administrations to take necessary action," Rudra told IANS.
Artists of Kumartuli -- the city's hub of idol makers -- claim they use lead-free colour for painting the idols. Awareness about eco-friendly colour has been developed not only among idol makers, but also among consumers. However, mass-scale adoption of non-toxic paint is yet to be achieved in the absence of any checks and due to a lack of understanding of the cost-benefit analysis, said Krishnajyoti Goswami, Professor of Biochemistry at Malaysia's Lincoln University College."Idol makers are claiming that they use non-toxic paint. But who is monitoring this? Mass-scale adoption of eco-friendly colour is yet to be achieved. The unit price of lead-free colour is dearer compared to traditional dust colour but consumption of eco-friendly colour is much lower than that of the dust variety," Goswami, who has been associated with the campaign for use of lead-free paint in idol making, told IANS.