If you were ever to ask a Bengali, what is the one thing that Bengalis have which no one else does; the answer would definitely be their monopoly over Goddess Durga and their copyright on the festival of Durga Puja. Nowhere else is it celebrated as it is in West Bengal! Nowhere else is it lived as it is in Kolkata! It is here that the Goddess becomes a daughter and the entire city her paternal home.If you were ever to ask a Bengali, what is the one thing that Bengalis have which no one else does; the answer would definitely be their monopoly over Goddess Durga and their copyright on the festival of Durga Puja. Nowhere else is it celebrated as it is in West Bengal! Nowhere else is it lived as it is in Kolkata! It is here that the Goddess becomes a daughter and the entire city her paternal home.
Legend has it, that every year during Durga Puja, the Goddess comes to stay at her parents’ house for four days, along with her children, the goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and her sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. Then on the fifth day, Vijayadashmi, she departs to join her husband back in the Himalayas. Nowhere else is this tradition brought to life, as it is in Kolkata! The passion and fervour with which the city upholds this phenomenon is second to none. Waiting like eager parents, the entire city prepares throughout the year to celebrate the daughter’s arrival and applaud her victory over the demon Mahisasura.
To call the Durga Puja festivities grand would be an understatement. You can’t help but fall short of epithets if you try to describe the awe and majesty of ‘Pujo’, as Bengalis lovingly call it. Rituals performed to perfection, traditions abided with impeccability, art, and culture showcased with creative dynamism; Pujo is an all- pervasive jamboree in the city of joy.
Fashion spearheads to the forefront as the city roads turn into a massive runway. With a minimum set of five clothes, if not more, every person becomes a style icon for those few days. The love for traditional clothing oozes with such an intensity; one could never grow tired of watching men resplendent in crisp kurta-pajamas or dhotis and women in ethnic sarees, sparkling jewelery and big bindis.
It’s a carnival when it comes to food with a varied menu that caters to every mood. Traditional Bengali cuisine to Kolkata style rolls and biryani, from the Anglo-continental to Tangra style Chinese; both streets and restaurants have their own take on all of these.
Coming to the star of the entire show, the PANDALS themselves, though temporary in their existence they can make the best architects jealous. Each a masterpiece, they are an institution in themselves with some gaining the fame of being the best of the best. The idols in the pandals never cease to dazzle, the intricate workmanship and talent of the sculptors are no ordinary dabble. Every artist has his version of Durga that he brings to life; every idol has its own distinct vibe. The activities in the pandals are not just limited to rituals and worship. They also serve as a platform for cultural shows and entertainment. Traditional folk music to bollywood based performances; some of the famous pandals also have the country’s famous classical artists giving appearances. Holding true to its name of the cultural capital, the city of Kolkata knows to appreciate every art form that is both classical and modern.
The different stages of durga puja in Bengal
Now lets’s take a look at the religious and cultural aspect; every day of the Navratri has a specific significance. Here’s a little list of each day’s activities, all performed with great devotion and sincerity.
It all begins with “Mahalaya”, the first day of Navratra. Expect almost every Bengali to tune into All India Radio at 4 in the morning to hear the broadcast of “Mahisasurmardini”; a recital about the birth of Durga and her war with the demon Mahisasur. It’s a prelude that sets the tone for the coming ten days. On the day of Mahalaya, elaborate invocatory ceremonies are performed beseeching the goddess to advance to earth. A special ritual called CHOKHU DAAN wherein the eyes of the goddess are painted on the idol is performed symbolizing the descent of the goddess to earth. Subsequent days are filled with rites and ceremonies venerating goddess Durga.
Then comes the 6th day or Shasthi, the day of “Bodhon” wherein the idol is consecrated and the puja area is sanctified for the unveiling of the Goddess to the waiting devotees’ eyes. She is welcomed with a special arti, ‘Dhanuchi dance’ and the beats of the ‘Dhak’, the traditional drum.
• PRAN PRATISHTHA
The 7th day is the day of Prana Prathista along with a special bathing ritual of the goddess.
• KUMARI POOJA
The 8th day begins with offering of “Anjali” to the devi. On this dayYoung girls (virgins) are worshipped in the ceremony of ‘Kumari Pooja’ as the manifestation of the divine energy.
The 9th day or Mahanavmi, is the day when the demon was finally slayed. This day marks the end of the Durga puja witht the “Maha arti” after the “sandhi pooja”. A special Navami “bhog” is offered to the Goddess; a feast that the devotees look forward to.
The 10th day is the day when the Goddess returns to her husband’s abode. This is the day of teary-eyed farewell as the idol is immersed into water. It’s on this day that married women smear sindoor on the idol of Durga first and then on each other as a game. Known as “Sindoor Khela”, this ritual is symbolic of fertility and blessing of happy married life by the divine mother.
Not merely a festival but a celebration of its cultural heritage, Durga Puja in Kolkata is an event that should be at least once witnessed. For those who are new to the city, there are many organized tours, for the entire festival itself and the ceremony of immersion too. So come visit the goddess while at her paternal home she resides, Kolkata shall welcome you with its arms open wide.