This was last year when I was far away from Kolkata while the festival celebrations were in full swing. I really felt I should pen down my experience with Durga Puja year after year, which is not only about a mere festival but much more about what I feel about it .
And this time, that is 2020 when the time is unprecedented but emotions are definitely not. I still feel that even if the celebrations are in full swing mostly in our hearts and minds but the spirit to churn out happiness will never die in the hearts of Bengali whatsoever may come, because it is indeed about CELEBRATING life in those 6 days.
I was born and brought up in the Bengali para of Delhi, Chittaranjan Park. Where the festival is not just about a few days of worship but it is much more beyond that. It is about celebrations, functions, various creative competitions, fair-exhibitions, friends reunion, endless adda and reaffirmation of happy self.
Infact, to be honest, I feel to any common Bengali person, it is a festival which is being celebrated throughout the year and his/her entire life’s planning is done revolving around that. Don’t you agree?
I remember my initial days, how I used to be excited to plan up those 5-6 days right from the start of the year. Be it for what trend I would follow, what would I eat or who will I meet? In fact, Durga Puja is all about gaiety and grandeur for many in different ways. For a kid or a student, it’s about getting time out with their friends in new clothes or eating all good /bad/junk food without restrictions from their nagging parents. For some, just taking few days off for a forced break and then there are people like me who are now utilizing the leaves in order to head to a holiday destination just to relax. I would still say, we are all celebrating in our own ways .
So, coming back to the festival part which is now being recognised as one of the world biggest carnival. Quite a proud moment for all Bengali’s.
Durga Puja or Durgotsav is the annual Hindu festival which is celebrated as a mark of victory for Goddess Durga over evil demon “Mahisasura”. It also signifies the presence of strong feminine force as a mark of “Shakti” in the face of universe. Durga Puja is celebrated over the last five days of Navratri, but starts on the same day as Navratri with Mahalaya.
The entire period of Durga Puja is commonly divided into three phases, which are Pre Puja preparations, During Puja celebrations and Post Puja recollection.
Kolkata gears up for the next years Puja right after the idol immersion of the previous year. There is an immense planning which takes place in order to decide on the theme and the budget of the big scale puja. Also, for the barowari puja ( Puja which is conducted in private individual homes) , there is a great deal of planning and preparation involved. Kumartoli (the famous artisan’s place in North Kolkata) gears up for final delivery of numerous idols by this time.
“Mahalaya” ushers the ritual by welcoming the Goddess Durga and her children Lord Ganesha, Kartika, Goddess Lakshmi, and Goddess Saraswati. It is from this day that the Durga Puja fever begins. Durga Puja starts from the seventh day after Mahalaya and ends on the tenth day of Dashami or Dussehra. On this day, Chokkhudan happens which means Goddess is given her eyes. Thousands of devotees throng to the Ganges or any holy river to pay homage to their late ancestors in the form of “Tarpan” right from the break of dawn.
Mahalaya calls for excitement amongst all as officially we step into the final preparation for a 5-day grand celebrations. Also, in a common Bengali household, family tunes in to the All India Radio to hear the melodious chants of Mahisashur Mardini which is recited by late narrator Birendra Krishna Bhadra at 4 am.
Days before actual Puja, there is generally lot of hustle bustle in the markets, or perhaps in the hearts of young and the old. The joy of meeting old friends, eating out , pandal hopping, shopping together and spiritual alignment in those days just revvs up.
So, the Puja fevers actually ushers from the onset of Mahalaya. And, in Kolkata , some of the renowned puja committee unofficially opens the pandal for visitors right from day one so as to draw the attention.
During Durga Puja Days
Elegance of North to the Opulence of South Kolkata- Durga Puja is more than just idol worship
So, the actual festive dates usually fall somewhere between September or October months of each year depending on the Bengali calendar. Those 5 days show the result of extreme planning, preparations and lavish presentations at all levels. By the third day which is “Tritiya”, the festival welcomes the paparazzi around bigger pandals. Usually outside Kolkata, as I have witnessed before, puja officially starts from Panchami or the fifth day but due to massive quest and enthusiasm, many of the renowned places in Kolkata inaugurates the puja on the third day itself.
In Kolkata, one can witness largely three types of Durga Puja
First is where one can witness various display of theme based community pandals where they showcases the best representation of artistic creations with magnanimous display of lights and various quirky props. This is generally a common attribute of South Kolkata Pujo where such vibrant grandeur display is evident. The captivating decorations is a common sight on every street, in every “para” of South Kolkata.
Few of the very very famous and must to be visited pandals which always steals my attention are Ekdalia Green , Tridhara Sammilani, Hindustan Park, Ballygunge Cultural, Chetla Agrani, Suruchi Sangha , Bosepukur Sitala Mandir or Behala Chowrasta just to name a handful out of thousand names. Each year there are various competitions where accolades are given for the best theme to Best Idol of the year. However, this is all part of commercialization or to attract enough attention to create monetary funding to aid them. So, the craze to stand the best out of all just fuels up.
Second type is in North Kolkata, where one can find more traditional setting. The focus is more on the traditions here, where the idol are mostly in “ek chaala” with age old traditions to be strictly followed every year. They usually focus on the traditions more than the theme or decor. Due to smaller spaces in North Kolkata ( which is also the older part of Kolkata), the focus is more on the idol than the pandal. And, one can witness the non commercialization of the same to some extent out here.
Some of the very renowned puja in the North that cannot be given a miss are BagBazaar Sarbojonin (one of the oldest north kolkata large scale community pujo dating more than 100 years) , Ahiritola, Kumartoli, Telenga Bagaan, Kor Bagaan, Chalta Bagan, Kashi Bose Lane Durga Puja, Santosh Mitra Square just to name a few. These puja will always be evergreen and will be in must-to-visit places of almost all pandal hoppers and photography enthusiast.
The third type, which has always caught the undivided attention of many Kolkata lovers is the Bonedi Bari & Barowari Pujo. It is believed that during the colonial time of the Pre-Independence Era, many erstwhile affluent families or the Zamindar families had the tradition to conduct Durga Puja in their ancestral big homes just to show their status and wealth to the commoners.
And in order to do that, massive celebration used to take place along with ritual which later passed down their generations in order to carry on the legacy. Hence, Puja usually is taken place in the house only, where all the members and relatives are fully involved in this 5 days ritual. Right from the time of Devi Paksha starts till the Bishorjon (immersion of Idols) happens.
The family members from far away land unites each time to bring out the festive tradition in a most perfect manner. It is often quite a site to witness the grand celebration which take places in various times of the day. Traditions like Dhunuchi dance, Shondhi Pujo, Shonday Arati , Bhog distribution, Pushpanjali or Sindur Khela each family has an age old tradition which they follow religiously without fail.
There are many such renowned Bonedi Bari Pujo in and around Kolkata which takes place with much pomp and paparazzi. Some of them for suggestions would be Laha Bari, SovaBazaar Rajbari , Pathuriaghata Khelat Ghosh Bari, Chattu Laatu Babu Durga puja, DarjiPara Durga Puja and Roychoudhury family Aatchala Durga Puja. The list is endless but until and unless one explores on foot to step into each daalans (courtyard of olden days houses ) it is really difficult to even estimate that how many unknown saga of Bonedi Bari Puja is still to be discovered.
So, the five days of celebrations start from Chaturthi and continue till Dashami night. Endless sleepless night, no curfew hours to rest, sleep, eat or to do anything under normal discipline per-say. From the young to the old, everyone looks forward to live their days full of joy, celebrating life.
Post Puja Recollection
Bijoya Dashami or the last day of the five day long Durga Puja comes to an end with Devi’s farewell. As we step into Dashami day which also marks as Dusshera in the North or Vijaya Dasami in South India commemorating the joy of Victory over Evil.
Heart and the mind tends to get sadden from Nabami Night as we slowly inch towards the final day of her return and to bid her off on Dashami. The next day the major ritual of “Devi Boron” is done in order to pay off respect before she is bid goodbye with her bisarjan.
In the morning, once the Devi Boron is over, largely the married women takes part in the glorious ceremony of Sindur Khela or the Rituals with Vermillion. It is believed that everything has to end on a happy and prosperous note and hence her farewell is also done in a grand way . She is treated with sweets/beetle and is decorated for her final journey. It is also believed that for this couple of days, Goddess Durga arrives to earth to her parents, and she is pampered with a variety of bhog and prasad. Thus, when she finally has to leave, women give her a grand farewell as any daughter going back to her husband’s place would receive. While applying sindur on Goddess Durga’s feet and forehead they also pray for their happy and long married lives.
Once the Sindur Khela is over, family or the committee takes a grand procession of Maa Durga and her children and bid her goodbye by offering her last prayers and finally immersing in the river. After the same, everyone comes back with the holy water and finally greets Shubho Bijoya by sharing sweets and other delicacy to each other.
Bijoya marks the last phase of Durga Puja but also gives way to other Puja which is then lined up. Just after three days, many of the Bengali households perform Lakshmi Puja at their respective household. The Bijoya feeling just lingers on as friends’ relatives continue to unite and visit each other’s home. And the best part is, the joy then prevails at all time as we wait for the next year to come in a much bigger and brighter way by singing in our hearts – “Aasche Bochor Abar Hobe” .
Very recently, West Bengal State government has also taken an initiative to arrange a grand Puja Carnival which is held every year just two-three days after the Puja is over. This is held in Red Road-Kolkata, which is much similar to the Republic Day parade where they showcase all popular idols in the form of processions. There are various cultural function which takes place for 4-5 hours. One can definitely head there to witness all the famous puja in one place.
Also, news doing rounds this year that Durga Puja has now been nominated for Unesco World Heritage status.
What I feel that this is one festival which primarily signifies happiness for all entity as the divine brings in victory in the heart of all laity by uniting them with one purpose of spreading happiness. What else could be a better way to celebrate life, isn’t it?
Here is a short video on Durga Puja 2018.
I would love to hear about your festival as well, in the comments section.
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