Months before the start of Durga Puja, youth members of the community collect funds and donations, engage priests and artisans, buy votive materials and help build pandals centred around a theme, which has rose to prominence in recent years. Such themes have included celebration of humanity, marginalisation of queer persons and transgender persons, folk culture, celebration of cinema, womanhood, pro-environment themes, while others have chosen metaphorical themes such as celebration of maati (literally, soil or ash) and “finding one’s own light”. Pandals have also been replicated on existing temples, structures, and monuments and yet others have been made of elements such as metal scraps, nails, and turmeric among others. Durga puja pandals have also been centred around themes to acknowledge political events such as the 2019 Balakot airstrike and to protest against the National Register of Citizens of India.
Designs and sculpture-idols are made by commissioned artisans, which is also a team effort involving labourers, architects, and community representatives hosting it. The budget required for such theme-based pujas is significantly higher than traditional pujas. For such theme-based pujas, the preparations and the building of pandals are a significant arts-related economic activity, often attracting major sponsors. Such commercialised pujas attract crowds of visitors. The growth of competitiveness in theme-based pandals has escalated costs and scale of Durga puja in eastern states of India. Some segments of the society criticise the billboards, the economic competition, and seek return to basics. The competition takes many forms, such as the height of statue. In 2015, an 88-foot statue of Durga in Kolkata’s Deshapriya Park attracted numerous devotees, with some estimates placing visitors at one million.