Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), Calcutta Festival, General > Tracking the flight of the Fanush (ফানুস)

Tracking the flight of the Fanush (ফানুস)

Tracking the flight of the Fanush (ফানুস)

Compilation of home made hot air balloons

Also see: My compilation on Fanush

Fanush (ফানুস, also spelt as Phanush or Phanus), paper made hot air balloon, was once the integral part of North Calcutta (Kolkata) “Babu” Culture. Today the art of Fanush making is a dying art as the new generation has shifted its attention into other sources of entertainment.

The Fanush operates in the same principle of a hot air balloon. The air inside the Fanush is heated by a cloth rag ball (locally called Luti) soaked in spirit. The Nuti is attached to the base of the Fanush.

Fanush Ajay C1

Fanush (ফানুস) at Bholanath Dham, Beadon Street, Kolkata

Probably started by the Dey family of Darjipara of North Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1912 Fanush flying was a regular activity on the late afternoon of Kali Pujo in the Darjipara and Beadon Street areas.

Apart from the conventional balloon shape the fanush also came in a host of different shapes. Pitchers, stars, footballs, ducks, kettles and even the planet of Saturn.

In 2010 I first got introduced to the world of Fanush at Bholanath Dham in Beadon Street, North Kolkata, initially it was just a casual approach and was enough to provide material for a blog post.

But things started changing from 2012 when I first documented the fine art of Fanush making, igniting a love affair that continues to this day.

Bholanath Dham 2010

The Dutts of Bholanath Dham have been flying fanush since 1924. On the afternoon of Kali Puja every year several fanushes are let of from the Dutt’s house of Bholanath Dham.

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1 – 2 – 3 up goes the fanush at Bholanat Dham

In 2010 the fanush flying was lead by the 84 year Jadavlal Dutt and assisted by his son Ajoy Dutt, with with whose help my blog post on fanush would never have been a reality.

Ajay 10 1

A Fanush being released from the terrace of Bholanath Dham

The 2010 a total of nine fanushes were released, which included conventional balloon shaped to ball and clock shaped. The hands of the clock fanush were attached just before the launch, indicating the time of the launch.

Ajay 10 2

Up above the Bholanath Dham

The fanushes in Bholanath Dham are traditionally launched from the courtyard but for variation a few are also launched from the large terrace. Also see: Fanush, Bholanath Dham 2010.

Bholanath Dham 2012

2010 fanush show at Bholanath Dham I published my blog post just before the Kali Puja of 2011, which attracted a large number of visitors  in my blog, but unknown to me my blog generated a lot of enquirers.

Fanush Making at Bholanath Dham ~ Ajoy Dutt and P K mullick

Fanush Making at Bholanath Dham ~ Ajoy Dutt and P K Mullick

I didn’t attend the event in 2011 but soon after the Kali Puja I received a invitation from Ajoy Dutt for the 2012 event. Further communication proved that Ajoy Dutt was an extremely friendly and cooperating person.

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A fanush being released from the courtyard of Bholanath Dham

So in 2012 I decided not only to visit Bholanath Dham for fanush flaying on the day of Kali Puja but also to document the fine art of fanush making. So my operation fanush making started just after the Durga Puja of 2012 and I visited Bholanath Dham on several days before the Kali Pujo to document the art of fanush making.

Ajay 12 1

A fanush flays above the Bhola Nath Dham

Sadly in 2012 Ajoy Dutt’s father Jadavlal Dutt had passed away. He  was assisted by his friend and neighbor P K Mullick. His son Arindam, Ondrilla and a few family members were part of the fanush making process.

With the document done I was back again on the D day of Kali Pujo to witness the art fanush flying for the second time. I was greeted by a much larger crowd, compared to 2010. No wonder my blog was making inroads into the world of fanush making. Also see: Fanush Making.

Bhadreswar 2012

On 2 Dec. 2012 I travelled to Bhadreswar to document the fanush of Sachin Mukherjee. For Sachin Mukherjee of Bhadreswar the childhood fantasy of fanush (paper made hot air balloons) making has turned out to be a life long obsession. Fanush making and flying has been a Sachin Mukherjees passion for the last 60 years.

Today nicknamed the “Fanush Manush” (Fanush man) Sachin Mukherjee is quiet a celebrity in Bhadreswar and nearby areas and has even displayed his art in Delhi and Mumbai.

Sachin Mukherjee's Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Sachin Mukherjee’s Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Sachin Mukherjje passion for fanush started during his childhood days in Darjipara, North Calcutta (Kolkata). As a child his was fascinated by the fanush of Gourishankar De. But fanush making is always considered a strictly guarded family secret for the De family of Darjipara. There fanush stencils (locally called chant) are still out of reach of outsiders.

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

But this was not enough to dampen the spirits of the young Sachin Mukherjee. In 1953 at the age of 14 Sachin Mukherjee tried his first fanush work total on the basis of trial and error. His football shaped fanush turned out to be a rugby ball but it did take the skies and ignited a passion of a lifetime.

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Over the year Sachin Mukherjee have perfected the art of Fanush making. His fanushes comes in every possible shape. Ranging from octopus to Sudarshan Chakra and from skull and cross bones to pot full of rosgullas and even Vat 69 bottle !!!! They also vary in size ranging from 6 feet to 12 feet.

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

Fanush, Bhadreswar, Hooghly

He spends about Rs 20,000 for his fanush fantasy, quiet an amount for an retired government employee, and not to mention the endless hours of labour. Every year he has worked on a variety of themes to spread the message through his flying beauties. He also adds his contact number and address in the fanush and once received a call from the military post in Barrackpur!!!!!

On 2 December 2012 Sachin Mukhrejee released 11 fanush (one didn’t fly) from the terrace of his residence in Jagadharti Pally in Bhadreswar, Hooghly. Also see: Fanush, Sachin Mukherjee’s Amazing Creation

Bholanath Dham 2013

Ajay 13 1

A group of photographers capture a flying fanush at Bholanath Dham

Since 2012 there was no looking back and I was a regular at Bholanath Dham not only on Kali Puja but also before to witness and document the fine art of fanush making.

Ajay 13 2

A fanush takes the skies with the sun setting in the background, Bholanath Dham

On the day of the Kali Pujo the crowd of photographers have started increasing at an alarming rate, no wonder my blog was making inroads into the world of fanush.

Bholanath Dham 2014

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Fanush heads up from the courtyard of Bholanath Dham

It was kali pujo again and time for fanush in Bholanath Dham. I was again there with an ever increasing number of photographers to capture the grand spectacle of fanush flying.

Ajay 14 2

Photographers makes an attempt to capture the football fanush, Bholanath Dham

With hundreds of photographers all round me I shifted my focus of capturing the different phases of fanush to the photographers, who were busy photographering the fanush.

Bholanath Dham 2015

In 2015 the number of photographers kept on increasing. Making it difficult to realese the fanush. Also photography became a challange as many of the new photographers came within the frame.

Ajay 2015 1

A fanush takes the skies with a group of pegions, Bholanath Dham

This year also my focus remained on capturing the photographers, who were busy capturing the fanush.

Ajay 2015 2

Photographers take aim at the football fanush, Bholanath Dham

But within this period of four years my blog have not only attracted photographers but also fanush enthusiast, who were eager to learn the art of fanush making.

Milk Colony, Belgachia 2015

I was back again at Sachin Mukherjee’s but this time in his brother’s house in Milk Colony in Belgachia. The date was 29 Nov. 2015 but apart from fanush there ws a twist.

Fanush Makers L - R: Rajat Mallick, Kawtuk Jaiswal, Deepak Dutta, Dipen Bandyopadhyay and Sachin Mukherjee

Fanush Makers L – R: Rajat Mallick, Kawtuk Jaiswal, Deepak Dutta, Dipen Bandyopadhyay and Sachin Mukherjee

It was probably  the first time an effort was made to bring all the fanush makers under the same roof. It was an initiative of his grandson Debashis Mukherjee.

Up she goes. Sachin Mukherjee's Fanush

Up she goes. Sachin Mukherjee’s Fanush

Although several veteran fanush makers like Ajoy Dutt, P K Mullick and Gobindo De couldn’t make it to the show, there were several others who did. It included veteran fanush makers like Dipen Bandyopadhyay and Deepak Dutta.

A star shaped fanush above the Belgachia (Milk Colony) skyline in North Kolkata

A star shaped fanush above the Belgachia (Milk Colony) skyline in North Kolkata

The greatest part of the show was the presence of young fanush makers like Rajat Mallick and Kawtuk Jaiswal but absent from the show were Biresh Majumdar and Anjan Patra. Also see: Sachin Mukherjee’s Fanush and Fanush Makers Get Toghter

Bholanath Dham 2016

Ajay Fanush 16 3

A Fanush above Bholanath Dham

The crowd of photographer kept on increasing and this time they came with the latest gadgets like 360 degree cameras and even a drone. Capturing the fanush with the drone became my latest challenge.

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A fanush and a drone, Bholanath Dham

2016 also saw Dipankar Das the latest member of the fanush making community. A fast learner he provide active support to Ajoy Dutt and P K Mullick at Bholanath Dham.

Milk Colony, Belgachia 2016

Sachin 16 2 S

A globe shaped Fanush made by Rajat Mullick

Sachin Mukherjee’s Fanus and the Fanush makers get together continued in Milk Colony in 2015. Kawtuk and Rajat were present with their own fanush and the latest addition in the list was Chinmoy Chakraborty.

Sachin 16 3 S

A Fanush made by Chinmoy Chakarborty, with a print out of old Rs1000 note

The event coincided with the demonetization in India and fanush were flown with the large printouts of the old Rs500 and Rs1000 notes. Please note that the note printout didn’t carry any political message.

Sachin 16 1 S

A lone photographer takes aim at a football fanush

Ajoy Dutt was also present. This marked a slow but steady growth in the fanush making community in Kolkata, a small step towards the revival of the lost art of fanush making.

Fanush Making Workshop, Bholanath Dhan, 2016

By blog has not only attracted photographers towards fanush but a group of young fanush makers also got into the art of fanush making and in the process revived the art from extinction.

Mentors and participants of the Fanush making workshop at Bholanath Dham

Mentors and participants of the Fanush making workshop at Bholanath Dham

The Fanush Making Workshop was scheduled at Bholanath Dham on 4 & 11 Dec at 2:30 pm. First day was focused on cutting and pasting, while the second day focused on finishing aspects like luti binding and fixing.

Dipankar, an young fanush maker, teaches the art of fanush making at the fanush Making Workshop

Dipankar, an young fanush maker, teaches the art of fanush making at the fanush Making Workshop

The workshop, headed by Ajoy Dutt and with Dipankar as his assistance, was attended by about 25 participants, with a majority of women. Bandana Das, one of the participants, soon picked up the tricks of the trade and have been making fanush ever since.

Bholanath Dham 2017

The list of fanush makers continued and Avishek Dutta, who is still in college, probably became the youngest member to join the fanush making community.

Ajay 2017 4

Preparation at Bholanath Dham

But in spite of the growing fanush making fartenity 2017 Kali Puja proved to be a bad year in fanush flying.

Ajay 2017 3.jpg

The weather god was not in favour and the sky was oveercast from afternoon and there was a strong wind. It it was even worse as just before the show started it started to rain.

Ajay 2017 2.jpg

A fanush flys above Bholanath Dham

But this was not enough to dampen the spirits of Ajoy Dutt and P K Mullick. Assited by Dipankar and Avishek a total of 9 fanushes were let off from the courtyard of Bholanath Dham.

Ajay 2017 1.jpg

The clock fanush above bholanath Dham, the time indicats the time of launch

But every thing has a good side. Because of the rain and erratic winds the fanushes had a different flying path and even after 6 years of photographing fanush at Bholanath Dham I did get a different angle.

Bansdroni 2017

Probably the most enthusiastic of the new age fanush maker Rajat Mallick has developed a process of making paper fireproof. A mechanical engineer by profession, Rajat has used softwares like auto cad to develop his fanush.

Rajat 2017 4

A fanush being launched from Rajat’s Fanush launcher

In absence of a helping hand, Rajat has developed a device to release his fanush, all on his own. For details, do visit his wonderful blog on fanush.

Rajat 2017 2

Two faces of the Smiley Fanush

For the last couple of years Rajat Mullick have been flying fanush at his Bansdroni reidence on the day of Kali Puja. But 2017 was a spoilstar with strong winds and rain Rajat was forced was forced to abandon his fanush flying.

Rajat 2017 1

A lon photographer aims at a fanush, Bansdroni

This proved a blessing in disguise for us as he decided to host the event two weeks later and invited other fanush makers to join him. I was lucky enough to witness Rajat’s amazing beauties taking the sky.

Bholanath Dham 2018

Unlike 2017 the skies were clear in 2018 and it was ideal fro fanush flying. Over a dozen fanush were let out, sadly two of them caught fire. The innovation continued with attempts of a Santa Clause fanush.

Ajay Fanush 18 1

A fanush takes off from the courtyard of Bholanath Dham

A giant black and white fanush also took the skies. The clock, the top and the traditional conventional shapes were also part of the show.

Ajay Fanush 18 5

A fanush takes off from the terrace of Bholanath Dham

Over the years the fanush event at Bholanath Dham has started attracting a large crowd of photographers. No wonder it is a good sign for the fanush loving community but many of these photographers were actually disturbing the event. This needs immediate, as a slightest error in the release can cause a fatal accident.

Milk Colony, Belgachia 2018

I missed the Milk Colony event in 2017 but in 2018 I was back to see the Fanush Manush, Sachin Mukherjee in action. There were over two dozen fanush and due to sortage of time two terraceses were used.

Sachin Fanush 18 4

Two photographers try to capture a funsh in the shape of 2018 Football World Cup Logo

Two seprated launch parties took responsibility of the release. Teddy bear, commic characters, 2018 football world cup logo and even kaktua bird were some of the the inovative ones.

Sachin Fanush 18 8

A man (left) releases a fanush as photographers take aim

Also included were theme based fanush like 100 years of cinema. There were also beautifully painted fanush like fish aquarium.

Sachin Fanush 18 12

As darkness sets in the luti of a fanush glows in darkness

The two launch pads provided photographers with exploring new angles and point of view resulting into more inovative shots.

Sovabazar Rajbari, Neelkantha Bird, 2019

Doshomi, marks the end of of the Durga Puja and on this day Maa Durga along with her children makes her journey back home to her heavenly abode in Kailash. According to legend the arrival of the goddess back to her home is informed, to her  husband Lord Shiva, by a Neelkantha Bird.

Sovabazar Nilkantha 19 6

The fanush, symbolizing the Neelkantha Bird takes off from the Sovabazar Rajbari

The practice has stopped ever since the possession of Neelkantha Bird has been banned by the Wild Life Protection Act, but Ajoy Dutt of Bholanath Dham is not only a master fansuh maker but also a master of thinking out of the box.

He joined hands with Prabir Krishna Deb, an artist from the Shovabazar Rajbari, who painted the fanush with figures of Neelkantha Bird. Two such fanushes were made. The first was let out from the courtyard of the Sovabazar Rajbari and the other from a boat in the river moments after the idol hit the water. For details read Durga Idol immersion and flight of Neelkantha Bird

Bholanath Dham 2019

2019 a total of 17 fanush took the skies from the courtyard of Bholanath Dham. Unlike the other years, where the fanush were let out from the courtyard and the terrace, in 2019 all the fanush were let out from the courtyard.

Ajay Fanush 19 6

Up above the Bholanath Dham

There were special themed based fanus including the bicentenary of the birth of Vidyasagar. There was another on Gandhi and another on environmental awareness.

Ajay Fanush 19 8

A photographer takes aim at a fanush as it heads for the skies

Clock, star and discs have their usual share. With all the fanushes being lunched from the same place it provided lesser opportunities for the photographers

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A funaus with the kali idol in the background

But it was largely compensated by the feathery white clouds in the back drop of the bright blue sky, which was a photographers delight.

Note: This is a compilation post and will be updated from time to time.

  1. November 3, 2017 at 12:19 AM

    Beautiful pictures and interesting story to go with them. I had never heard of Fanush before today. They look beautiful. Do they sometimes launch them at night as well?

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:31 PM

      No unlike Chinese Lanterns the Fanush, because of its amazing colours is let off only during the day. The colours and the shape won’t be visible in the night.

      Debashis Mukherjee has explained this very well in the comment below.

  2. Debashis Mukherjee
    November 5, 2017 at 6:10 PM

    Hi, Todd,
    Yes, there are Chinese Lanterns which is flown only in the night. They are not colourful and are having a single shape. In the night you can only see the light moving around but not the model.
    The pictures that you see are beautiful because you can see lots of colours and different shapes. This definitely you will not able to make out in the dark.
    So ideal time for launching these big balloons are in the afternoon when you have the day light

    If you are here in Kolkata on 26th Nov, please do drop in

    Cheers / Debashis

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:35 PM

      Thnaks Debashis da for the explanation

  3. Debashis Mukherjee
    November 5, 2017 at 6:16 PM

    Dear Rangan da

    Fantastic writing.

    Will look forward for your active posts towards the Fanush Festival on 26th Nov

    Cheers / Debashis

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:29 PM

      Thanks Debashis da, I will keep updating this post with more info on fanush and their makers.

  4. November 6, 2017 at 12:09 AM

    Wow! This is fantastic! And here I thought that flying hot air balloons were something of a foreign activity. Lovely to know about their Indianized form. There is so much we don’t know about our culture… Thanks for sharing this story and pictures.

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:28 PM

      Thanks Wanderful Weekendz, Fanush (paper made hot air balloons) is distinctively a north Calcutta affair.

  5. November 7, 2017 at 5:30 PM

    oh my god amazing photo and post.
    i like both.

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:27 PM

      Thanks Rajat, looking forward for more amazing fanush.

  6. January 21, 2018 at 5:50 PM

    Thanks you shared a great information about hot air balloons.All pics representing such a great hot air balloons
    We are representing Thailand life if anyone wanna to travel in Thailand then visit our website:https://goo.gl/sL7Fpm

    • January 21, 2018 at 9:37 PM

      Thanks, Thiland has always in my bucket list.

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