Touted to be one of the biggest carnivals in the world, Durga Puja in Kolkata is celebrated with a fervour parallel to Christmas in New York, Rio carnival in Brazil, La Tomatina in Spain, among others! Wherever in the world you may reside, if you come to Kolkata during the Pujas it is impossible not to be soaked by the devotion and fervour the occasion demands. It is not an exaggeration to say that Bengalis all over the world spend a significant amount of time planning on what to do during the Pujas. It is a sentiment that evokes nostalgia among the nonresident Bengalis. According to mythology, the festival is celebrated as a mark of Good winning over Evil. The Goddess is sent to earth to fight the King of Demons Mahisasura, a fight that culminates into victory on the 10th day.
Pre Durga Puja
Durga Puja in Kolkata is an elaborate affair with the preparations beginning way in advance to the actual event. The bylanes of New Market, Gariahat are filled with people thronging to catch the latest Puja fashion. It is impossible to miss the pulse of the city and the excitement is palpable in the air. The streets of Kumartuli come alive with idol makers getting the Protima (idol) ready to be sent to different pandals across the city and even overseas.
While the preparations begin months in advance the process of “drawing the eyes” of the Goddess or what is colloquially known as Chokkhu Daan is done only on Mahalaya. The sound of dhaak officially announces that the Pujas are here! Thereby, begins the week-long celebrations. While some plan on catching up with friends and family, there are others who wish to explore the various pandals across the city. Durga Puja committees across the city indulge in a competition of who can portray Pujas in the most creative way or what has now come to be known as “theme puja”.
The Goddess is welcomed into pandals and households on the 6th day of the festival known as Sashti. One of the most important rituals is offering of Pushpanjali on Ashtami (the 8th day). Dressed in traditional attire people throng their local pujas to offer reverence and to seek blessings. Another highlight of the day is Kumari Puja, where young girls dressed as the Goddess are worshipped just as one would worship Durga Maa. These girls are seen as the pure and serene form of the Divine herself. As the festival seems to pass, there sets in a grim mood as the celebrations start coming to an end. On the occasion of Vijay Dashami, married women indulge in Sindoor Khela where they playfully smear each other with Sindoor or vermillion. Children seek the blessings of elders and sweets are passed through to bring in the day. The painful goodbye comes in the form of Visarjan where the Goddess is sent back to her home and is marked by idol immersion in the holy waters of Ganga. People sing and dance and huge processions are held which is another spectacle to behold.
Food is another huge element of the Pujas that is as important as pandal hopping. Pujas are the time when calories go for a toss for the anyway mostly known as glutton Bengali! Be it be gorging on roadside rolls or the traditional puja bhog, it is something that one can not avoid, if in the city.
Not restricted to Kolkata, Durga Puja is celebrated with equal gusto in other cities of India as well as by groups settled outside the country be it in USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia. With chants of “Asche bochor abar hobe” (we will celebrate the same the coming year) the Goddess is sent back with a heavy heart. More than a festival Durga Puja is a sentiment, an emotion very close to Bengalis. If there is a festival you must see it is Durga Puja, an experience that you will always cherish.