Pandal made on a specific theme are the hub of attraction for the pandal hoppers during Durga puja in Kolkata. Pandals and idols inspired by a particular theme have been the hallmark of many community or Sarbajanin Pujas in Kolkata since the 1990s. Puja committees decide on a particular theme, whose elements are incorporated into the pandal and the idols. Popular themes include ancient civilisations like the Egyptians or Incas. Contemporary subjects like the RMS Titanic and Harry Potter have also been the subject in some pandals.
The design and decoration is usually done by art and architecture students based in the city. The budget required for such theme-based pujas is often higher than traditional pujas. They attract crowds and are well received. Inspired by Kolkata, theme-based pandals are becoming popular in cities in neighbouring states, particularly Odisha. Experimentation with the idols does not happen much outside Calcutta.
Rapid growth of competitiveness in theme pandals, and also rapid growth of massive billboards that come up at strategic junctions, prior to Puja and allied commercial activities, has also created a cultural backlash from city's traditional Puja pandals, which now claim, "We do not do theme puja, we do Durga puja,", according to one hoarding put up in Salt Lake, Kolkata.
Durga Puja is one of the most important events in the Bengali society's calendar. Many Bengali films, albums and books are released to coincide with the Puja. The West Bengal government gives a fortnight of holidays for the Pujas. This time is used in various ways. Many people travel in India or abroad. Gatherings of friends called "Aadda" in Bengali is common in many homes and restaurants. A lot of shopping is done, and retailers cash in on this opportunity with special offers.
Visiting pandals with friends and family, talking and sampling the food sold near them is known as pandal hopping. Young people embrace this activity. Pujor Gaan (Songs of Puja) are the Adhunik Bengali songs that come out every year during this time.
Kolkata is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly river, it is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India, while the Port of Kolkata is India's oldest operating port as well as its sole major riverine port. As of 2011, the city had 4.5 million residents; the urban agglomeration, which comprises the city and its suburbs, was home to approximately 14.1 million, making it the third-most populous metropolitan area in India.
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