Visually impaired kids at Ramakrishna Mission Blind Boys Academy bring to life Durga Puja magic in vivid ways
The festivity of Durga Puja celebrations has been brought to life in a unique way by blind and low vision children studying at Kolkata’s Ramakrishna Mission Blind Boys Academy in Kolkata. This is part of an initiative #OderChokhePujo by M P Birla Cement with Siddhant Shah of Access For ALL.
The fragrance of the dhuno, incense with coconut husk, the beat and rhythm of the dhaak, and the shankh blown at the start of a puja. The uniqueness of Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal have been brought in ways, unique and magical, by visually impaired students of the Ramakrishna Mission Blind Boys Academy in Kolkata.
Using their imagination, these students, with varying levels of visual impairments, have rendered the sounds, colours, and magic of Durga Puja festivities with the use of tactical materials.
The initiative called #OderChokhePujo is by M P Birla Cement in partnership with heritage architect and access consultant Siddhant Shah.
Year after year at M P Birla, we strive to do something unique, something purposeful for the people. And this Pujo, we decided to do something which was truly one-of-its kind. It was eye-opening to see the imagination that visually-impaired children have. #OderChokhePujo is our humble ‘Heart and strength’ initiative this Durga Pujo”. – Sandip Ranjan Ghose, Chief Operating Officer, M P Birla Cement
Siddhant, India’s first architect to make museums and other cultural sites accessible to people with disabilities, first did a workshop with the visually impaired students of the school. The students were from classes 5 to 10 and Siddhant and his team wanted to spend some time with them understanding the nuances of the Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal, which is quite different from the way Navratri is celebrated in other parts of India.
“During the workshop we talked to the students about the Durga Pujo and what their associations with the festivities are, the significance of the Mahalaya at the start of the festivities, when Ma Durga begins her journey to her father’s home on Earth”, explains Siddhant.
While the children had heard stories about Ma Durga, they got to have a tactile experience of the weapons she carries for the first time, the dhaak or drum, among others.
“We gave them various materials like paper, flowers, leaves, sticks etc.,” says Siddhant. “Things they could mould and cut create into the weapons, Ma Durga’s face and the lion with her. We saw interesting levels of imagination”.
The visually impaired students were most fascinated to hear about the third eye of Ma Durga. “That moment was very special”, recalls Siddhant. “One child came to me and said, ‘Wow, she had three eyes, I wonder what she can see from that”.
Parents of the students were then invited to experience, blindfolded, the wall of imagination the children created. The Access For ALL team is happy that this is a creation the children can take pride in all year long.
“The Ramakrishna Mission Blind Boys Academy is a residential school which means the children here can access the pujo wall they have created all the time. Apart from just praying they can touch and feel the experience through the year’, says Siddhant.
Siddhant and his team are hoping to bring the experience home to more visually impaired children and hope to take this forward with more organisations.