A Night at the Opera

The Durga Puja Committee of Matri Mandir in Safdarjung Enclave has been putting cash aside for the golden jubilee celebration for the past eight years. They wanted to create something special to celebrate the Super Warrior Goddess breathing life into her image for five days.

Following the horrific, murderous, terrorist attacks in Paris last November, the committee decided on building a “puja pandal” (temporary marquee in which to worship the Goddess) employing the theme of world peace. It needed to be French, as well. So they chose to recreate the Palais Garnier Opera House in the grounds of their temple in South Delhi.

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It is very impressive. To get in, you have to successfully negotiate a metal detector and then walk through a corridor before you enter the huge space of the pandal. The colour scheme is red and gold, with a mixture of lighting which plays havoc with the white balance on my camera. Chandeliers hang glittering from an impossibly high ceiling.

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The murals on the walls and ceiling attempt to replicate the artwork of Paul-Jacques-Aimé Boudry. If you look closely, one side of the painting is a mirror image of the other.

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The main stage is occupied by Goddess Durga and her family. Stage left, there is a live performance area. The orchestra pit is filled with seats for people to watch the band, not the Goddess.

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The acts Sairaj Khati and Dipan Mitra had both been finalists on Zee Bangla Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (a sort of India’s Got Talent show). They were performing songs to which everyone seemed to know the words. Apart from some lively lads down by the stage and two little girls in their best party frocks, no one was dancing. So naturally I had to try to get some action going in the crowd. A lady in front of me turned around, staring at me with a withering look, which rapidly changed to embarrassment when she saw I was a foreigner.

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The walls are laden with boxes, but they are just for show; you can’t watch the proceedings from on high. The grand staircase has become a place where people sit to hear the music. I took a photograph of a lady standing in front of a mural between a soldier and Moses. Moses appears to be trying to sneak a peek down the lady’s cleavage. Honestly, I didn’t pose her. That is where she stood of her own accord.

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There is even a huge classical statue but I am not sure if this is a replica of a work of art within the Paris Opera. Most of the statues in France have wings. But she does appear to be carrying an olive branch, in keeping with the world peace theme.

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Everyone else mills around what would have been the stalls, marvelling at the magnificence of the pandal, taking selfies and enjoying the ambience. The committee has been successful in raising lots of money from sponsorship and advertising. Purists might say that this detracts from the spectacle, but I hardly noticed it.

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It took months to build but in a few days, at the end of Darshana (visions of the divine), and when Durga has destroyed evil (Dussehra), the cloth and bamboo structure will all be dismantled. And the planning has probably already started for next year’s festival.

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