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KOLKATA: Durga Puja in Kolkata is said to transcend religion and cast a spell on every heart. This year, communist China has fallen for its festive charm.

The Chinese consulate in Kolkata, the official representative of the People’s Republic of China in the city , has decided to participate in a big way in this year’s Puja and even hand out awards to the best pandals.

The consulate has tied up with Impact, an NGO that works closely with the city police and Kolkata Municipal Corporation to spread safety awareness among Durga Puja organisers.

For three days starting October 6 (Panchami), consulate members will tour city pandals and decide on the 10 best Pujas. The parameters for judging will be safety, aesthetics and environment protection. The results will be announced on Nabami. While there are no cash prizes, the winners will get an all-paid trip to China. The awards will be given away by the consulate in an event after the Pujas.

“I am so excited about the Durga Puja, which transcends religion or spirituality .It is a cauldron of happiness that engulfs everybody . We are happy that we are starting a new chapter in understanding Kolkata’s culture by participating in the Pujas through this award,” said consul general Ma Zhanwu.

Chinese expatriates who will act as judges will visit the pandals unannounced. The judges will see if the pandals have adopted proper fire-safety measures, whether there is enough space for fire tenders to negotiate in the unfortunate event of a fire or if the organisers have kept the entrances and exits clutter-free for easy evacuation of people, said Zhanwu. Innovative pandal designs, themes and aesthetics will also fetch points.

Last year, members of the Chinese consulate were invited to a large number of community Pujas. For most of them, it was a first. “We were aware that Durga Puja was the biggest festival of Bengal, but had no idea it was such a grand spectacle, literally a celebration of the artistic elixir. This is what we wanted to be a part of this time,” Zhanwu added.

Free trips to China for the winners will also be a means to promote tourism. The trip will showcase the best-loved destinations of the country .”Kolkatans are known for their wanderlust. Each year, more tourists from the city visit China. I think we will be able to address a large number of people at the pandals and generate an interest in China,” Zhanwu said.