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A Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata that is accessible to visually impaired people

From Durga mantras in Braille to the idol of the goddess made in iron nails, the Samaj Sebi Sangha Puja in Kolkata has taken several measures to make the pujo pandal accessible to visually impaired people.

Located in Ballygunge, the organizers have made an exception this year by allowing visually impaired visitors to touch and feel the artwork.

As you enter the pandal, you are greeted with a large installation of the face of goddess Durga, with her third eye made of 12,000 iron screws. This enhances the sensory experience for blind visitors, something they miss out on with clay idols.

The artefacts have been created out of iron nails and screws to enable people who are visually impaired to touch and feel the beauty of the pandal. There is also a Braille path throughout the pandal so that blind people can walk around independently and enjoy the experience. - Arijit Maitra, Organizing Committee, Samaj Sebi Sangha Puja

As you walk through the pandal, the words Ma and Jai Ma Durga can be seen written in Braille on the walls. Every visually impaired visitor is given the pujo itinerary and the concept idea in Braille.

The artefacts on display have been prepared by craftsmen and artisans after months of consultation and collaborations with students from various blind schools in Kolkata.

"We have interacted with a few blind schools like the Blind Boys' Academy of the Ramakrishna Mission and Lighthouse for the Blindto understand how they perceive the experience of Durga Puja", says Maitra. "They told us how they feel when they listen to the Mahalaya, and that the sound of wooden planks being sawed and hammered reminds them that the pujo is coming. We have tried to incorporate all this into the pandal".

The result is a unique blend of tradition and accessibility. Like the use of nail-thread artwork taught in blind schools and an artefact that shows how the hands of a blind person act as their eyes.

The concept has been appreciated by visitors. "I think it's a very wonderful idea and in doing this, the pandal has lived up to its name, of samaj seba or social work", said Raja Datta, a homestay owner, who lives in the neighbourhood. Comments like "Awesome" and "Fantastic" have been posted on the pandal's Facebook page as well.

Apart from making visually impaired people comfortable here, the pandal is also trying to create awareness about eye donation. "We have an eye bank in front of the pandal with pledge forms and certificates", says Maitra.

Clearly this pandal is truly dedicated to the cause of public service.

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