Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Carnivalesque in Viswakarma Puja: Narratives of Festivities of Alcohol and Music in Kolkata and its suburbs

Carnivalesque and the present time:

Early anthropologists like Max Gluckman (1963), Edmund Leach (1961) and Peter Burke (1978) represent generation of classical studies of festivals. Gluckman’s (1963) findings conceptualise role argues role reversals where among African tribes are seen as represent transcending transcendence over local taboos to protest against social order. Leach (1961) documents upside down and chaotic world in festivals.Burke (1978) using these anthropological findings formulate carnivalesque, theorising carnival as institutionalised disorder with rituals of reversal. Lefebvre (1991a,b) focuses on the rationalisation and commodification of life which is associated to the demise of pre-modern carnivals and indigenous festivals. Echoing Durkheim’s (1973) conception of mechanical solidarity Lefebvre argues that festivals are examples of spontaneous, ecstatic and identity-producing cultural practices, which is a feature of per-modern society. Lefebvre (2002) sees impact of capitalism in transforming the pre-modern festivals to spectacles and rise of new modes of consumption including culture, entertainment, tourism and leisure.

The memories of a transformation of carnivalesque

In our childhood it was the Kali Puja or the worship of Goddess Kali that used to assume the carnivalesque nature – the transformation of cityscape upside down. On that day it was virtually alright to drink a lot and do some weird behaviour. Goddess Kali herself receives wine (usually offered to her, a pint of Rum) and her followers usually have whatever they like. The unusual queue at the wine shops a few days before reflected the trend. However, those things have intensified and now cover almost every festival of the state. Young generation is fond of going frenzy on every occasion with hint of alcohol. Thereby, it is severely changing the concept of carnivalasque through wine in the cityscape. Other features of the carnivalesque might include the changing space allocation, spectacle building, changing routine of the spectators, sudden rise of consumption and so on. In this regards one might (quite justifiably) say Durgotsav is the biggest carnival of the city and its surroundings. In this blog post I would rather say Durgotsav and today’s Kalipuja too represents a balanced carnival of the ‘Bhadralok’ – the gentlemen and the true upside-down effect lies in other apparently lesser studied festivities.

The most prominent among them is the spurring rise of Viswakarma Puja – the worship of the Lord of Machines/engineers/factories. While West Bengal has observed steady decline of industries the hotbeds for worship of Viswakarma click here: https://jpgmag.com/stories/20166, there is a parallel rise of informal economy and consideration of such economies as production oriented economies and hence the worship has assumed a different form for last couple of decades. While I have seen large-scale celebration of Viswakarma in different factories in Port city of Haldia for almost six years, where the government offices remain closed for a couple of days, in Kolkata, Viswakarma has assumed a different form of community based worship. The communities are mostly informal sector workers involved in transport. Hence, there is a celebration at every corner of the localities with a rickshaw/electric ricksaw (popularly the TOTO)/Auto/Taxi/Bus stands. Sometimes when there is a simultaneous presence of two or more categories of vehicles there is an overlapping spatial allocation for two or more pujas.

The most conspicuous nature of Viswakarma puja is the nature of music used, patterns of celebration opted and display of emotions. These three represents distinct subcultures and the “Bhadralok” group could never know such existence until there is a Viswakarma puja nearby. Hence, for a couple (or more) days there is a rise of alternative music. These forms of music represent a distinct quality – often with rural tune, language and often with somewhat direct portrayal of sexually charged messages mixed with high bass fast music. More recently there is an inclusion of Bhojpuri songs. I have listened to a few and here are a few links. These songs are filled with symbolic portrayal of sex and body.

In practice on the night (even in day time as well) of Viswakarma Puja there is a bunch of people dancing with these songs after having some alcohol. It continues. Everyone, willing to go out for last minute shopping has to depend on their private cars and of late Ola or Uber as there is near complete absence of public transports. You will encounter fewer traffic polices too!


Most prominent feature is the nature of ambiance created by the use of music and related performance. Viswakarma Puja represents one of such occasions when people from the bottom show that they don’t want to be regulated and display their distinctive subculture subsets. For two or three days they do not do what they otherwise do for earning their livelihoods. They refuse to go on hire and most often do not even bring their vehicle. While the sophisticated “Shyama Sangeet” has completely transformed the nature of Kali Puja and use of traditional Bengali musics including Rabindrasangeet has made Durgotsav a disciplined anarchy of Bengali “Bhadralok” possible – Viswakarma Puja has become one of the true alternative spaces for Carnivalesque. One can get updated about the subculture that exists parallel to the middleclass value oriented Bengali self, just by having a close watch on Viswakarma Puja. Viswakarma Puja blurs some of the essential boundaries of Private/public, rural/urban, good/bad, day/night and many more.
                                              This video of Viswakarma Celebration has been received in Whatsapp

Ps. I could go through several Puja pandals in the night without much hindrance in an UBER, which I am sure I could not have if it was the “Bhadralok” infested Durgotsav! You know, we live in multiple worlds of categories – truly. 


Burke, Peter. (1978) Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, London, Maurice Temple Smith

Leach, Edmund. (1961). Pul Eliya, a village in Ceylond: A study of land tenure and kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lefebvre, Henri. (1991a). The production of space, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Lefebvre, Henri. (1991b) Critique of Everyday Life. Volume 1: Introduction. Translated by J Moore. London: Verso

Gluckman, Max. (1963). Order and rebellion in tribal Africa. London: Cohen & Wests.


  1. I have used and referred to your blogpost on durga Puja in my article on Durgotsav. this is another brilliant take. Keep it up. All the best.

  2. http://journalofsociology.ro/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Full-text.pdf

    This is the paper I was referring to, Suman

  3. Thank you angelica for sharing your article. Quite intensive study. Thanks a lot for following my blogs.