D for Durga Puja – Kolkata Chronicles

The first image of Kolkata as depicted by Bollywood and the TV series is always some women draped in red bordered white sari, styled in a particular way, dancing with an incensory in her hand and people devouring rosogolla to celebrate. To celebrate, what you ask? Durga Puja of course.

Durga Puja and Kolkata are synonymous to each other and all so rightly, I have to admit. So how can I dare to chose any other word for D when Durga Ma is there to rescue. (The other close contenders were Dada and Doi(curd) but Ma Durga annihilated them with her ‘trishool’).

But, what can be said be about the famous Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata which has not been touched before. So with the risk of repetition let me start with my version of Durga Puja.

It was exactly ten years ago when I actually understood what Durga puja in Kolkata meant for me and many others like me. I was in Bangalore, completing my PO program. It was the September month, but, surprisingly the sky did not suddenly change its hue nor the air started smelling like pujo. The people were calm and nobody was discussing what to wear on which day of the five days celebration. No special shopping ensued. The roads were not getting blocked with pandals* and there were no knocks on the doors to ask for donations. In short, it was a catastrophe. The end was near.

I tried to share my woes with my friends. Some sympathized, some laughed it away saying, “What is the big deal? It is almost like the Ganesh chaturthi of Mumbai.” And my fury knew no bound. They do not know what they are comparing. And to add to the hurt, my institution announced an exam on the date of Navami. It is a sin to do anything but celebrate during those five days! But, who would make them understand. Nobody could stop the tears that followed.
That was the first and last time I have stayed out of Bengal during Durga Puja and admittedly would never repeat the mistake again.

Yes, it is a religious festival, but, much more than that. It is almost impossible to pen down the grandeur of the celebration in words and so I always ask my friends to visit once to experience it. For ten days, Durga Puja becomes an expression of the city itself, with the reverberation of the unique rhythm of dhak and adorned with even more unique pandals. The air smells different. The breeze carries a mystic fragrance of Siuli, Chhatim combining with Pujo preparation and scintillates all your senses along with the ambience. So here I try to jot down the Ten Commandments of Durga Puja to be followed religiously in no particular order.

  1. Start early. The royal celebration needs preparation. Minimum of two months for personal shopping. We wear multiple sets of clothes – mind you, there’s a morning outfit and an evening outfit, plus emergency backup outfits. And for the puja committee people it starts almost five months ago, some even before that. And the end result is worth it.
  2. Listening to Mahisashurmardini, recited by the majestic Birendra Krishna Bhadra at the break of dawn on the day of Mahalaya in a radio is a must to announce the advent of Durga Puja. You cannot skip it.
  3. Dhyankurakur- The quintessential combination of Dhak, dhol,Kasor Ghonta arousing all the five senses of yours in pure ecstasy .Do not confuse it with the’ nagada’ or ‘dhol’. Its different and Durga Puja is incomplete without them.
  4. Pushpanjali –The most sacred prayer a Bengali offers throughout a year .Even the greatest of atheist will be fasting and be clad in their best ethnic dress and present in Pujo Mandop* offering their prayers to Mother Durga, listing all their wishes for the year.
  5. Sandhya Arati – The divine moment with the diyas ;dhakis and their enthusiasm; smell of the dhuno . Well, they just lights up the evening, more beautifully.
  6. Dhunuchi Nach- A perfect cocktail of dance and balancing the incensory (‘dhunuchi’) with perfect matching of steps with the ‘Dhyankurakur ’ during the arati. Yes Pujo does brings out the best in the talented Bengalis.
  7. Bhog- Pujor Bhog. Nothing in this world can beat the taste. The same ingredients just taste different. May be ‘durga ma’s’ blessing added to the flavor.
  8. Pandal hopping – No puja is complete without pandal hopping from North to South. A simple translation of the Pandal is hard to find. You can assume it to be a makeshift abode of the Goddess and her four children during their annual earth visit. The theme can range from Eifel Tower to Bahu bali set or the Jurassic park. The hard work, the details, the planning that goes into building the pandals is best appreciated when you tour them. For five days the city forgets to sleep.
  9. Food – And you cannot just hop around pandals for five days without good food. Worry not, because there are stalls mushroomed around major pandals selling everything from Biriyani to ice creams to popcorns to fuchkas and chats and egg rolls– as if the city has dished out a buffet for you. The restaurants start working overnight and are still always crowded. And to clear the doubt once and for all. Yes, we eat non veg during Durga Puja. Because for us she is the daughter visiting her parent’s house after a whole long year and one just cannot celebrate the homecoming of their favorite daughter by keeping fast or eating vegetables. The feast must be grand.
  10. Dashami – The grand event calls for an even grander ending .Bengali ladies deck up in white and red sari to bid the Goddess and her children a formal goodbye with vermilion and sweets, in turn also coloring themselves red with the ‘Sindoor khela’. Then the senior and juniors alike starts the prestigious ‘procession’ with light, sound and band, but, a heavy heart chanting,’Asche bochhor Abar hobe’(until next year).

Hope you are enjoying the series as much as I am while writing it. So until tomorrow Kolkata Chronicles takes your leave. Stay well.

Note : This blog is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge

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  1. Each and every post of yours is making me nostalgic. My summer trip to kolkata got cancelled this year due to covid19. So all these posts are making me sad also. Durga puja is an emotion for us, it is part of our identity. Ganesh chaturthi is no match. Even in Mumbai, Durga Puja is more grandiose than Ganesh chaturthi. Keep the posts coming. Enjoying thoroughly.

  2. I have seen a mini version of Durga Pooja in IIT. A few of my Bengali friends used to take me with them. The huge idol of Maa Durga used to be so mesmerizing. And the beautiful alpana around it. Your post brought back my IIT memories.

  3. Hi Sreeparna, beautiful post. I lived in Kolkata for two years and Pujo memories will forever remain with me. I attend Pujo every year, though not in Bengal, but the feeling is surreal.

  4. I just kove pooja…and I still visit Kolkata for pandal hopping..this time too we did.
    Unbelievable crafts and pandals, 3d works one shld go n watch.no where in the world u can see such unique pandals.
    The pooja time n air wrapped with aroma of shiuli …. DIVINE…
    Loved your narration style..looking forward for more…

  5. Superb writeup. I could sympathize with your Bangalore experience. Never been to Kolkata during Durga Pujo but I loved the depiction in Kahaani movie. I must say, Bengali ladies look most beautiful during the pujo.


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