Durga puja pandals

Redefining compassion and coexistence: Pet-friendly Durga Puja

India’s first pet-friendly Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata urges people to care for strays. The Durga Puja pandal shows co-existence and the significance of dogs in Hindu mythology. It is India’s first pet-friendly pandal.
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As most people spending time on the internet will confirm, what gives them most happiness is watching animal videos. Pet dogs and cats doing cute and funny things and being the absolutely adorable creatures the maker meant them to be. No matter what mood I am in, a dog bathing in the garden with a water hose or a cat playing with yarn absolutely melts away my blues. In fact, University of Leeds conducted a small study and found that people can reduce their stress by upto 50% by watching animal videos.

If one combines the joy that animals give us with the festive spirit that now embraces all of the country, the result is magnificent. Having achieved the right mix of happiness and thoughtfulness is Kolkata’s Bidhan Sarani Atlas Club – it is the first Durga Puja in India that is pet-friendly allowing over thousands of pets to come visit the puja pandal with their humans. The puja has won hearts of people and the internet alike and puja revelers like me are making a beeline to visit the busy North Kolkata puja pandal since its inauguration on Mahalaya.

The theme the Durga puja organisers chose is ‘ananta ashray’ or the everlasting shelter. The idol of goddess Durga has stray dog statues gracing her feet on the pedestal. The puja pandal has also been designed in a manner that creates social awareness on inhuman acts on stray animals by humans. “If you look at our work, it is very obvious – we have painted Mahishasur the demon as the rider that crushes the babies of street dogs,” say artists Sayak Raj and Souraj who are the brain behind the grand idol and the pandal.

Interestingly, this Kolkata puja invited the dog squad of Kolkata Police for its inauguration; Labradors Molly and Camphor along with German Shepherds Dinky and Liza graced the auspicious start to Durga Puja with their presence.

Artwork on mythology, dogs

Bidhan Sarani Atlas Club’s Durga Puja this year will be recorded in history as a dog lover’s favourite. As one enters the pandal, art work on mythological stories of dogs, gods, humans and saints are depicted on both sides of the canvas. While the highlight definitely is the asur as the cruel biker who doesn’t show remorse while crushing and killing puppies on the streets, the other art pieces are on a compassionate note. One that is part of popular lore is Mahabharat’s eldest Pandava brother Yudhishthir trying to enter heaven with a dog. According to Hindu mythology, the dog was later revealed to be Lord Dharma.

Another piece shows Lord Dattatreya who is always depicted surrounded by four dogs that embody the four Vedas. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Dattatreya is the avatar of three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

My favourite is the painting portraying the sweet story of the 19th century saint Radharaman Charan Das Babaji. According to lore, the saint from Nabadwip had asked people to attend the ‘shradh’ of Bhakti Ma, his loyal pet dog who had passed away. But humans refused to come for the ceremony. Radharaman then invited several dogs to come and fed them happily instead.

“Our art shows co-existence and the significance of dogs in Hindu mythology. While the theme is on stray dogs, every pet is welcome. In fact, ever since we have opened our pandal to the public, a few other species have also visited us, namely rabbits, birds, cats and mice,” says Sayak Raj.

Over 3000 footfalls in 3 days

The biggest festival of West Bengal that has also been declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the world by the UNESCO recently, throws up the biggest surprises every season with its theme-based pandals. From the aspirational Burj Khalifa pandal by Sree Bhumi Sporting Club in Kolkata to the migrant mother goddess of Barisha Club reminiscent of the lockdown period of 2020, the artists do not disappoint puja revelers ever.  But the phenomenal love and appreciation that this pet-friendly puja has received just goes on to prove that for every person that doesn’t show compassion to animals, there are hundreds who do.

With over 3000 footfalls in just 3 days since its opening, the organizers have received visitors not just from Kolkata but nearby districts as well. “The icing on the cake is that we received a couple who came all the way from Gurugram with their pets. We are expecting many such heart-warming stories in the coming days,” says Ritam Bhattacharya, member of the puja committee.

Dedicated to the animal victims of cruelty

A recent incident inspired the organisers to think of the pet-friendly theme in particular – a couple who took their pet dog to Kedarnath for darshan faced severe backlash and found themselves mired in controversy. “The couple took their pet to Shiva who is also known as Pashupati, the father of animals. Shiva’s wife is then the mother of all animals. Doesn’t the mother goddess belong to everyone then? Isn’t the eternal shelter meant for all beings and not just humans?” asks Sayak Raj, who dedicates this year’s celebrations to all those stray animals who lost their lives to cruelty. The theme is winning hearts and filling our timelines with love with it’s message of coexistence and compassion towards animals.

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