This Stunning Tramcar Has Been Decked Out For Durga Puja

Kolkata is the only city in Asia that has held onto trams. To celebrate 150 years of tramways and the UNESCO Heritage recognition for Durga Puja, a special tram will take people around the city
The special tram
The special tram@trams_of_calcutta/Instagram

This year, many people from India and abroad are headed to Kolkata to see one of the most spectacular festivals in the world, Durga Puja. The autumnal festival was added to UNESCO's list of 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity'. UNESCO listed Durga Puja in Kolkata on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, recognising the festival's special character. The festive itinerary will be packed with many things to do during the week-long celebrations. If you are new to Kolkata, there's a lot to explore in Kolkata, as well as in nearby places. But there's one thing you should not miss when you are in Kolkata for Durga Puja—the special tram service commemorating the 150th anniversary of tramways in Kolkata and Durga Puja's UNESCO Heritage status. The tram is part of Asian Paints' Sharad Shamman tradition and campaign that pays tribute to West Bengal.

On The Tracks

The iconic trams of Kolkata are a symbol of the city's heritage. For the Puja Special Tram West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) worked with Asian Paints and XXL Collective to create the one-of-a-kind tram with stunning artwork done by Kolkata-based artist visual artist Sayan Mukherjee. The Puja Special Tram was introduced on October 6, 2023. Flagged off from the Tollygunge Tram Depot in South Kolkata, it will travel along the tracks on the tram route 24/29, that is, from Tollygunge to Ballygunge, covering all of the areas recognised for having popular Durga Puja pandals. So, if you want to explore the Pujas from a unique POV, hop on for the ride from Tollygunge Tram Depot.

"The idea behind this is to celebrate the intangible cultural heritage tag of Durga Puja on the 150th anniversary of the tramways. Both Durga Puja and Kolkata's tramways are highly ingrained in the city's culture. So this was the best time to celebrate both of them," says Sagnik Gupta, filmmaker and freelance film editor, and the joint secretary of the Calcutta Tram Users Association (CTUA), a citizen's community advocating for the trams of Kolkata. They claim to have the largest archival gallery of Calcutta Tramways. You can check them out here.

A decorated coach with pujo alpona
A decorated coach with pujo alpona@trams_of_calcutta/Instagram

Celebrating The Frames Of Durga Puja

The tram is part of Asian Paints' Sharad Shamman tradition and campaign that pays tribute to West Bengal. A lot of work has gone into the Durga Puja tram. The tram coach is a Burnstandard 608 which has been extensively and elegantly decorated both inside and outside. Two bogies of the tram have been beautified by Asian Paints. The exteriors of the first bogie capture the 38-year journey of Asian Paints Sharad Shamman (APSS) in Kolkata. The exterior artwork showcases the first print advertisement and the first winning pandal. The bogie also highlights the unique stories featured in People of Pujo – a documentary series capturing the lives and passions of those who make Pujo the celebration what it is. On the tram we see a visually impaired artist who has commendable skills and women dhakis who challenge the masculine stronghold of the performing arts.

The artwork includes various elements of the pujas and life in the city
The artwork includes various elements of the pujas and life in the city@trams_of_calcutta/Instagram

The tram car have been handpainted with Puja-related imagery, including the artisans of Kumortuli (who spend months making the Durga idols), dhakis (drummers), elements like pujo alpona, and rituals such as sindoor khela and dhunuchi dance, as well as popular heritage landmarks of Kolkata. Inside the bogie, the makeover includes Pujo decor with cane installations, Alpona art, and a museum-style visual narrative of APSS’ transformative journey. Interactive elements and QR codes engage visitors with People of Pujo stories, allowing consumers to explore the stories of the people behind Durga Pujo festivities as they enjoy the tram ride.

"Asian Paints selected this moving platform of advertisement synchronising the elevation of festive spirit among the citizens," says Dr Debasish Bhattacharyya. The founder member and president of the Calcutta Tram User’s Association, he used to work as the Deputy Director, CSIR—Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Jadavpur. The coach was left unattended in the shed for many months, he says. "As the car was not in regular service, enough time was granted to the advertisement agency to complete their art works without affecting normal service schedule. This way, passengers are benefitted by having one more tram in service that was left unused for so long for no reason." Asian Paints onboarded XXL Collective from the St+art India family as creative partners for the unique transformation of the tram. Sharing more insights into the artwork, Arjun Bahl, Founder, XXL Collective said, "As we step aboard this tram ride through the streets of Kolkata, we get a glimpse of a journey that is a tribute to the city's rich cultural heritage. This was a milestone for us as well, transforming a simple tram ride into a cultural experience, reimagining the possibilities of public spaces in our city. As we pay homage to the past and embrace the future, we aspire for Kolkata to become a canvas where art and culture thrive, bringing this experience closer to every resident."

A Memorable Ride

Apart from the Durga Puja tramcar, there are other plans on the agenda as well. "A Tramjatra programme will be organised by the Calcutta Tram Users Association on October 15, 2023, says Gupta. "The tram will be decorated on the occasion of Durga Puja and it will start from Gariahat to Esplanade and then go towards Shyambazar in the north. After a short break, it will return to Gariahat via the same route."

One of the oldest transport systems in Asia, trams have been operating since 1902 in Kolkata and should be on your must-do list. The most picturesque route is the one that traverses the Maidan and Victoria Memorial. You can hop on to a tram from the Esplanade depot or from the Ballygunge depot. The latter also has a cosy open-air cafe inside the tram depot. At the Tram World Cafe, you can have (among other things) chicken quiche, fragrant apple pie, and excellent coffee. All the while, vintage trams (and a 200-year-old banyan tree) surround you. 

Address: Tram World Cafe, Tram Depot, 52, Gariahat Rd, inside Gariahat, Dover Terrace, Ballygunge, Kolkata, West Bengal 700019

An L class 544, a route 28 double decker bus and a traditional hand pulled rickshaw. Circa 1960s
An L class 544, a route 28 double decker bus and a traditional hand pulled rickshaw. Circa 1960s@trams_of_calcutta/Instagram

The Calcutta Tram Users Association

The Calcutta Tram Users Association has been lobbying for a larger tram network in the city, and members say they are opposed to the tram being designated as a heritage mode of transportation. Trams, instead, should be widely used to transport passengers. "At present, only three truncated or by routes are operated by WBTC (24/29: Tollygunge-Ballygunge, 25: Gariahat-Esplanade, and 5: Shyambazar-Esplanade) against some 40 routes in the hay days of the functioning of CTC," says Bhattacharyya. He says that while they are happy to have this gorgeously decorated tram running on the roads, they have one reservation—that it may create a wrong impression among city dwellers.

"They will think that the authorities are interested in the restoration of the tram service. The situation is upside down. It is an agreement where WBTC earns (transiently) some money and hikes in reputation, and the advertisement agency gains some goodwill. That’s the end of the story."

It has no long-term effect on the restoration of past glory of Calcutta Tramways, he rues. Moreover, he points out, the Durga Puja tram route is restricted between Tollygunge and Ballygunge stations. "That covers only a small segment of South Calcutta. As WBTC made no effort to restore the link between North and South Calcutta tram lines for unknown reasons, the North and Central Calcutta residents will be deprived of the joy of seeing this tram running in their areas. Advertising agencies should note this limitation before entering into an agreement."

The embryo of CTUA was nurtured in the different programmes of ‘Tram Jatra’ that was initiated by the Melbourne Tramways community headed by Roberto D’Andrea. "Under their banner, trams were decorated in many events to spread the benefits of having a tramway in a city" says Bhattacharyya.

"In fact, the display of colour on the body of the Durga Puja Special tram reminds me of a similar colour combination of the tramcar No. 649 (Sunrise scheme) that was painted, probably in early 2000s. CTUA was pioneer in arranging the 150th anniversary of CTC, of course, in collaboration with WBTC."

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller