London exhibition celebrates Durga Puja as part of UK’s Thames festival

A unique photography exhibition celebrating Durga Puja festivities as part of the UK’s Totally Thames Festival has been attracting large crowds in London.

The exhibition titled Bengal’s Durga, produced by the West Bengal government and curated by Ali Pretty and Kamalika Bose, comprises 16 exhibition panels of photography by Manjit Singh Hoonjan to present an insight into the “outpouring of creativity, artistic innovation and cultural celebration” of Durga Puja tradition.

“For 10 days in autumn, 10 million revellers descend on the state of West Bengal for Durga Puja festivities with its thousands of mega idols, hundreds of themed art installations and processions to the River Hooghly,” an official statement said, in reference to the outdoor exhibition on the South Bank of the river Thames on display until September 30.

“We see a Durga Puja transcended from its religious origins to offer a broad canvas that binds communities together through artistic expression, incorporating music, theatre, fashion and food,” it said.

The exhibition, which opened on August 18, has been put together by West Bengal’s Department of Tourism in collaboration with British Council, which is marking its 70-year anniversary in India.

A delegation, led by West Bengal Minister of State for Sports and Youth Services Laxmi Ratan Shukla and comprising the state’s Principal Secretary of Tourism Atri Bhattacharya, paid a visit to the show on Thursday evening during their ongoing Ireland and UK visit.

Shukla said the event reflected efforts to establish collaborations between artists from around the world with those from West Bengal and showcase the state’s “experiential tourism”.

He said, “Durga Puja is a celebration of cultural identity that goes beyond religion. Millions of people come together through tradition, art, performances, music and food.

“Coincidentally, Durga Puja in its present form traces its origin to interactions with the British in the last 18th century. Our Durga Puja as a festival is unparalleled. There is nothing in the world that compares to it,” added Bhattacharya.

Totally Thames is an annual season of arts and cultural events held in September along the river Thames, curated and managed by the Thames Festival Trust.

This year’s inclusion of Bengal’s Durga exhibition has its roots in the Silk River project by Kinetika Design Studio, a flagship programme as part of the UK-India Year of Culture 2017 to celebrate the unique relationship between London and Kolkata through artistic exchange between communities along the Thames Estuary and the Hooghly river.

“British Council India has been inspired every day of the last 70 years by the art and culture of West Bengal. I hope this exhibition, which showcases the creativity and culture of Bengal’s river communities, will inspire young people from both India and the UK to build enduring connections through education, arts and culture for the next 70 years,” said Debanjan Chakraborty, British Council Director for East and North East India, who is part of the West Bengal delegation on their UK visit