Durga Puja in Kolkata
The most important festival of Bengalis is Durga Puja that celebrates the home-coming of the Goddess and her four children, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kartikeya and Ganesha. Married to Lord Shiva, She stays in Mount Kailash, and during the autumn season, She returns to Her homeland. The Holy Mother is symbolic of triumph of Good over Evil, and power as Hindu mythology eulogizes Her as the conqueror over Mahisasura, a wily demon. She is believed to take away all woes and worries of her devotees.
The festival is celebrated with much fervour in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Durga Pujais not restricted to Bengalis alone: it is a ‘Shaarbojonin’ festival –for one and all: rich or poor, young or old. It is actually a ten day festival that is heralded by Mahalaya. Of the ten days, the last five days, MahaShasti, Shaptami, Ashtami, Navami and BijoyaDashami are the most important days. People wear new clothes, shed their worries and immerse in the festivity. Families come out of their homes and gather at pandals.
The city seems to be dressing up as the festival approaches. Bamboo frameworks, lights, huge advertisement bill boards, temporary food stalls, revamped restaurant menus, discounts, shopping etc bring in the holiday mood.
Huge and gorgeous deities of Goddess Durga vanquishing Mahisasura, and her children are prepared of clay, in different parts of the city. Kumartuli is the most famous village where clay idols are made. In fact, the work starts way ahead of the festival.
The deities are set up in pandals, or shelters created specially for this purpose. The creativity that goes in the design of pandals is amazing. Every locality has a Puja of its own depending on their budget– and there is stiff competition for getting maximum footfalls and awards. A number of awards are given by media houses, television channels, etc to encourage the organizers to come up with unique themes, try for innovative materials, etc. Can you imagine a pandal made of plastic bottles or grains of rice? The workmanship is exquisite and it’s a pity that everything has to be dismantled after a few days.
A person offers ‘anjali’ or prayers to the Goddess in the morning in the nearest pandal and breaks his fast after that with ‘bhog’ or the Prasad. Children play around while the adults plan their day ahead.
Celebrations in different part of the city have unique characters. While the Shovabajar Rajbari exhibits royal splendour, the Chaltabagan, Telengabagan, Ahiritola, Mohammad Ali Park, College Square steal the show in sheer scale.
Ekdalia Evergreen, Singhi Park, Hindusthan Park, Jodhpur Park, Bosepukur, Badamtola, Park Circus, Mudiali are some of the famous ones from South Calcutta. College students hang around in Maddox Square, which is also famous for its inviting design and massive chandeliers.
Traffic comes to a standstill during the pujas. Also the metro rail of Kolkata starts operating from 2 PM. If you are in the pandal hopping mood, its better to do it in the day time; but you miss out on the lights then. Follow the traffic diversion plans drawn up by the traffic police and plan your day with large margins of time as you go around the city admiring the beauty of Goddess Durga and the pandals!
On the tenth and final day (Bijoya Dashami or Dusshera), its time to bid farewell to the Goddess. Some organizing clubs keep the idols for upto two additional days to avoid the rush on the first day and to cater to the last minute visitors. The idols are immersed in River Ganges, bade good bye by many people who stand on the road side for hours to witness the series of idols passing by. And then, the year-long wait for Durga’s return begins.