Animated Electric Lights from Chandernagar.

The illuminated panels that adorn the streets of Calcutta during Durga Puja each year, originated in Chandernagar, a small town in West Bengal once occupied by the French.

Around 1960-65, as a result of the ingenuity of pioneers like Sridhar Das and a handful of others ,festive decorations using large electric bulbs began to emerge.They were created in order to embellish the temporary Cloth Temples(Pandal)that house the deity Goddess Jagadhatri and Goddess Durga during the Dushehra festival, each year.

With passing years these panels have become very intricate and cleverly designed and occupy a very integral part in the making of the Durga festival ,diwali ,wedding marquees etc. A large number of contractors building these light panels now thrive in Bengal largely centred around Chandannagar.

The panels are essentially made of a bamboo grid on which strings of mini bulbs, hand wrapped in different coloured paper are strung according to the design to be portrayed. These bulbs are very small and use 4-6 volts of current each. The string of bulbs are plotted next to each other, to convey a simple movement as the circuits change, ie. The waving of a hand. Using this method a variety of movements can be generated.

The circuits are powered by an indigenous mechanism-a simple table fan motor that turns a roller anchored by an elastic band. Each of these motors can run 4-5 simple circuits.

An average panel of 4ftx4 feet would use 5000-7000 bulbs.

The subjects conveyed by these panels range from floral decorations to addressing contemporary social issues to reporting international events such as the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 bombings, natural disasters ,the cricket or Football World cup etc.

The first significant initiative to present these techniques as an art form was made by Calcutta based Curator, Nandita Palchoudhuri, in 1999, that resulted in a commission from the Belfast Festival, UK in 2001 to exhibit at a premium gallery for 3 weeks.

8 large indoor and outdoor panels and arches were built in India, using 50,000 bulbs and transported to UK. The panels showcased the epic Ramayan to tell the story of Diwali.

The design innovations brought in to enhance longevity of the panels, and compliance to western Health and Safety issues included the introduction of electronic circuits, Slotted angles for the framework and a knock down system of the structure to enable economical transportation.

This has not only led to the Chandanagore lights to becoming a viable export worthy commodity ; it has also led to the enhancement of the quality of the product in India itself and year round employment opportunity for the skilled labour.

The exhibition had tremendous critical and popular appeal and was frequently telecast by the BBC, and reported in all major newspapers.

Subsequently, The Thames Festival spearheaded by Mayor Ken Livingstone commissioned Nandita Palchoudhuri to create the center piece for the Mayors Thames Festival, in September 2003.

A peacock shaped boat,7 mts X 4mts X 5 mts using 135000 micro bulbs was made in Chandernagar in 16 parts and shipped to London and installed as the centerpiece for the Mayors Thames Festival. It was very successfully exhibited on 14th September 2003 to thousands of Londoners as it travelled along the banks of the Thames.

The rousing reception that the Bajra received from London's discerning public in 2003 prompted the Thames Festival to restage the Peacock Boat in London, so that many more Londoners could view the spectacle.

Kept in special storage for 2 years in the UK the Bajra will be reconstructed by a team from Chandannagore under the expert guidance of Sridhar Das in early September 2005.

The Bajra was exhibited to the public on 17th and 18th September in the Jubilee gardens as a static installation near the London Eye.

Thereafter the installation was transported to Blackpool to be displayed as a special exhibit as a part of the 125th year of the Blackpool illuminations till the 6th of November, 2005.

As a part of an initiative to promote artisan-and health partnerships, a Popular Mascot for HIV awareness in India was re designed by Nandita Palchoudhuri as a 9 ft high 3 dimensional animated Doll, to be located at all the major festival locations during the Durga Pujas in Calcutta. An estimated 10,000 viewers per hour saw these HIV dolls for 5 days of the Festival!

Arched gateways were created on the Elvet bridge, Durham, UK in November 2008 incorporating local iconic design as a part of the Enlightenment Festival.