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Durga Puja As Public Art


Sugata Bhaduri

IN THE NAME OF THE GODDESS: THE DURGA PUJAS OF CONTEMPORARY KOLKATA
By Tapati Guha-Thakurta
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2015, pp. xiv 390, Rs. 5500.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 3 March 2016

To a Kolkata-Bengali to the core like me, who unfortunately has lived out of the city for almost a quarter of a century now and in this period has been to the city only once during the Pujas, that too more than a decade back, and yet who is aware of the fact that it is exactly during this period that Durga Puja in Kolkata has completely metamorphosed, and is vaguely aware of what he has missed out on, this beautifully produced book came quite literally as godsend. Beautiful the book certainly is—shaped, sized, priced, and in looks as it is like a coffee table book—with glossy pages, a wonderfully designed dust jacket, and almost five hundred full-colour photographs, and yet it is not your usual coffee table book: it is a massively researched academic work—replete as it is with all the formal trappings of such a work, with elaborate endnotes, glossary, bibliography and index. And, it is this curious admixture of genres and formats that this book has to be judged for, and one has to question, in the final analysis, whether this attempt at fusion of styles works or not. Individually one can hardly have any doubts about either the compelling beauty of the lovely Durga Puja vignettes peering out of every page, or the arduous research of a scholar as formidable as Tapati Guha-Thakurta, but the test has to be whether the coexistence of the two succeeds. It seems the author herself is also aware of this tension; she says in the Preface, ‘This was meant to have been a short, non-academic book that I thought I could write after two or three seasons of research. In 2002–03, I could never have anticipated that it would end up in its present form and take the many years it has to be completed. […] Unlike any other book I have written, this one has pushed me into taking many disciplinary liberties and leaps. […] I found myself grappling with the challenge of writing a new kind of academic-cum-pictorial book, where I could dispense with concepts and theories in my narrative and use my visuals not merely as illustrations but as the ground on which the work stands’ (p. ix). But before I could share my own, tendentious, personal opinion on whether the book passes this crucial test, let me share with the current reader what the book’s ...


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