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  • Writer's pictureVaidehi Pant

Pandal Hopping from the Eyes of a Teen in India

The night of Navratri in Delhi is absolutely magical. Everywhere, we were blinded by the sheer light and energy of the city. The smell of mouth-watering delicacies wafted down to our stomachs and they groaned in longing. The hustle and bustle of men, women and children in kurtis, saris, and pretty dresses encouraged us to blend in with the crowd and sway to its rhythm. The sound of mellifluous devotional music was an absolute delight to our ears, and we found ourselves lost in their moving words. The city at night truly is a wonderful experience.

And on Navratri, the evening on which we went pandal hopping, it only got better.

Pandal hopping is a tradition in which locals wander from station to station, enjoying the magnificent view of the Hindu goddess Durga and comparing the displays of fairy lights and decorations. I had the immense pleasure of experiencing such a miraculous event just a few weeks ago!

Successfully getting inside a pandal was quite the task. We walked for at least 4 kilometers before pushing ourselves halfway into a line longer than the river Ganga, and finally stopping at a large, vibrant tent. The calming sound of prayer bells reverberated across the area. A cloud of smoke from the aarti platter mixed in with the smell of pav-bhaji, momos and chole-bhature, coming from stalls nearby. There was so much crowd, we couldn’t even see the goddess’ statue and had to leave with a foul mood, which was slowly dimmed with delectable food we devoured on the way!

The second pandal was a delight for all our senses. As soon as we entered, we were greeted by the loud, dominant sound of dholls. An aarti was taking place, of not one, but four idols of the goddess, adorned with the finest of silks and the best of gold jewelry. Behind the idols, stalls with more food (yay) were fit into the enormous lawn. The pandal had also won first prize for the ‘best statues’ in Delhi NCR, because of its gigantic size and grandeur.

The next, and final, pandal that we went to was, interestingly, exactly built like the Indian parliament building! I, being me, asked if it actually was the parliament, and got to know that it was just a replica. We joined the vast line of people eagerly craning their necks to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside, which was then shepherded into a field with, again, many stalls, stages and idols. We even saw a dance happening in front of them, but we had to push our way through because the crowd didn’t let us breathe!

Even though we only visited three pandals and had to go home afterward, it was still one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had in a long time. With thighs burning and ears ringing, I would definitely like to say that my very first pandal hopping spree was a success!

But, have you ever wondered what happens after the festivities?

Thousands, maybe millions of people form a colossal cluster, behind the trucks which would carry moortis weighing over 1000 kgs. These would then be ceremoniously dumped into any river or lake close by, accompanying the goddess’ heavy jewelry and velvet clothes and the chanting of aartis and shlokas in her honor. Devotees believe this immersion in water & earth absorbs the power & energy of Goddess Durga. It is also believed that all negativities are gone with this immersion & good things will happen.

Every year at least 15,000 idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the Hooghly river in West Bengal alone. This releases 16.8 tonnes of varnish and garjan oil and 32 tonnes of colors in the water. These colors contain a good dose of heavy metals like lead and mercury, which pollute the river. Even though this expedition was one of the best of my life and I made a bountiful of memories, I must say that the aftermath of such events is fatal for our environment.

However, this year, a handful of Durga Puja committees are trying to make a difference! The Matri Mandir Durga Puja Samiti’s pandal in Safdarjung Enclave in Delhi, for example, has opted for idols made of soluble clay and organic paints to ensure minimal pollution after immersion. The Cooperative Ground Durga Puja Samiti’s pandal in Chittaranjan Park, also known as Delhi’s Little Bengal, similarly has made an idol of bamboo, hay/straw and clay, which has been coated with organic vegetable colors. Shorbha Bhattacharya, an organizing member of the samiti, explained that the idea behind opting for a bamboo idol was to not pollute the Yamuna after the immersion. “The clay will dissolve, leaving the hay and bamboo floating in the water,” he said.

The goddess Durga is considered to be Durgati Nashinim (bringer of happiness). So, let's try and help her by promising her that we take a long-lasing pledge to make our idols and statues with an eco-friendly material which can be dissolved in water or planted in the ground. We can also use sustainable materials to build our structures and pandals. This way we can save water and air from being polluted, while not letting go of our important cultures and traditions.

So, the next time you go pandal hopping, make sure to follow this pledge and spread awareness about making the experience more eco-friendly, so that we can enjoy the festivities without worrying about the environment!

Written by Vaidehi Pant

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