Kolkata is all decked up again as the festival celebrations are about to begin. I have always felt that 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 2022 when Durga Puja has been enlisted in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage . 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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Wow… Beautiful indeed ❤️
splendid article , there is a depth and finesse to it which makes it lucid and free flowing . going to bookmark this
Thank you .. come soon to my city and enjoy the joy out here
Wow, you’re right – Durga Puja isn’t just a festival, but a major celebration. I had no idea just how much preparation goes into the planning of the celebration. I know it’s sad to have such a great experience come to a close, but it gives festival-goers time to reflect on the meaning of it all, and prepare themselves for the next one!
I had no clue what Durga Puja was until this post, but I must say, I’m intrigued! The pandals caught my attention the most, and no doubt do the same to others. It reminds me of the parades we have and decorating floats to be the most extravagant. What an incredible celebration!! No wonder you feel the way you feel about it. I think I would too.
Yes the creativity comes at its best around this time . And Sometime i get to see all the wonder in my city only through light and props
Thank you for the detailed post on the Durga Puja festival in West Bengal. The photographs are wonderful and brought back many memories. It was very nice to read the details on the pujas held by old families in the city and to also know about the marked difference in style found in different parts of Kolkata.
What a fascinating festival! I’ve never been to India or heard of this before, but I like the colorful costumes and the traditions behind it. I also love that in essence it’s one big 5 day party and one where you celebrate life and its beauty! A lovely festival and photos!
Yes indeed please witness it sometime
This is a really well drafted article Debs and way too informative too. I was always curious about Durga Puja specially after following your journey through the streets of Kolkata last year.
This is going to be a huge help for travellers visiting Kolkata during Durga Puja, to experience the festivities for themselves.
India has so many beautiful festivals each year. Durga Puja looks to be one of the most beautiful. I love reading about Indian festivals. The farewelling of Devi Durga and hoping that she brings back joy and happiness for the next year would be lovely to witness. A beautiful time for family. Thanks for sharing.
Yes please do come . kolkata welcomes all with a big heart this time
I couldn’t agree more, being a bong myself, I do not have much words to fit in the emotions that you have described here. Durga Puja is about celebrating life. I live in Thailand but I still manage to take few days off and visit Kolkata during the festivals and I did the same this year too. I can relate to your emotions well and yes, after coming back to Thailand, I stumbled upon this blog now and I am already missing it. Btw, “aschhe bochhor abar hobe”!
Hai re .. thik bolechish .. i have been a probashi all my life before settling down in Kolkata but the festival fever whereever i be is unique cannot be compared
I’ve never attended a Durga Puja festival but I’ve heard about them so I enjoyed reading your personal thoughts about your experience and how significant it is for Bengali persons. It was good to read about the preparations and celebrations, and the meanings behind them.
Yes sometime you must attend it and witness it with a local .
Can totally understand how important this would be – not only as part of culture but also identity. The idea of celebrating life and its beauty sounds incredible. Interested to read also of thr Puja carnival as a way to see famous puja 🙂
Yes it is really a large scale Puja.
There is something magical about Durga Puja in Kolkata and your post brought back some great memories of the city of joy. Whether you are a Bengali or not if you stayed in Kolkata it was part of you and you celebrated it with as much as passion. Staying away does make me miss it mite and I have promised myself to return to the city during the pujo season soon. The visuals are stunning and you managed to get some great shots which gave added mire life to the post.
Thank you Amar, I am sure you would relate to the feeling rather than ritual . Since you once said you hail from here . This city has that aura which surely makes you feel nostalgic.
It is a wonderful blog ..Every picture you have posted in your blog that Tells a story.
thank you so much .. I am glad it touched you
Your blog title is perfect, like Durga Puja basically life for Bengalis, as we eagerly wait for this every year.
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