The festival of Durga Puja has a cult of its own in Kolkata. It draws all kinds of crowd from far and wide. The City of Joy turns into a joy-filled heaven when the season for ‘pujo’ sets in. The beauty of the festival lies not only in the arrival of the Goddess along with her divine retinue and her ceremonial worships, but also the paraphernalia that has got attached to the festival over the decades. And, hands down, Kolkata is one of the best places to experience puja in its all festive spins. So with this in mind, we picked the top Durga Puja experiences or things to do in Kolkata during Durga Puja that every Bong knows and a non-Bengali in the city can look forward to. After all, why should Bengalis have all the fun?
Mahalaya indicates the onset of auspicious Devi Paksha, which sets the stage for the oncoming 5-day of festivities. Get up before day break to witness the priests and devotees invoking the Goddess with Vedic incantations and rites at different pooja pandals. Lazy bones or those who are unable to make it to the wonderful scene can tune into the radio or FM to be a part of it.
The most auspicious day for Durga Puja is the day of Ashtami. Almost every Bengali looks forward to make a flower offering to the Goddess on the morning of the eighth day of puja. For non-Bengalis, this is a not-to-be-missed experience.
Kumari Puja or worshipping the virgin is an important ritual during the festival. A girl aged between 5 to 8 years is chosen for a very elaborate worship on the Ashtami day before the idol of Durga. It was the great saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa who performed the first Kumari Puja by worshipping his divine spouse Sharda Devi at the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. This soon spread among many devotees of the saint and that’s how it all started. The Belur Math in Kolkata performs unparalleled Kumari Puja in the entire city.
Durga Puja is celebrated in two different ways in Kolkata. First is meant for the society that features lofty pandals and bedecked community halls, glittering lights and a diverse crowd. Second, the barir (home) puja is way homey that aims to bring together people and re-connect to their root. Such pujas are a sure-shot way to experience the real Bengali culture. Such pujas happen in old residential societies of North Kolkata or the upscale dwellings of South Kolkata. Some of the families have been celebrating the puja since long back, and they have interesting stories to tell about how the trend of special family puja started.
Be a part of carnival
Beauty contests for young ladies, dance competitions, fancy dress competitions for kids, drum-beating challenges for men and women are events that take place in nearly every puja organised by different housing societies. All are welcome to show their skill and prowess and take home a gift. People attend the fest dressed in the best of traditional finery; watching their spirited interactions is also an interesting sight.
As the sun sets, a mystical air and festive fervour fills up the ether because it is time for the sandhya aarti and the devotees are all geared up to pay homage to the World Mother with all pomp and gaiety. At every pandal, the appointed priest waves numerous lit-up butter lamps before the Goddess, while the gathered devotees perform dhunuchi naach at the irresistible beats of dhaak. The zest and worship goes on till the following dawn.
Kolkata is a foodie’s hogging ground on any given day, which turns even more vibrant during the pujo. Many households even lock up their kitchens during the five-day-long festivities, and get their daily fill from local restaurants, kiosks in pandals and other street food vendors. Taste a bit of everything―all things are good.
The young crowd of Kolkata hits the Maddox Square in Ballygunge to experience merrymaking at its best when the puja vibes are in the air. Hundreds of youngsters from across the city assemble at this venue to witness band performances, TV shows broadcasting live and other events. Something or the other keeps happening here all the time. And if you are a local, you are sure to bump into a friend or an acquaintance.
On the last day of Durga Puja, the married women indulge in a hearty sindoor-khela (playing with the vermillion) by smearing red vermillion on the pretty face of Holy Mother first, and then, besmearing each others’ faces with the sacred powder as a mark of goodwill, auspiciousness and luck. Ladies, please take note.
The Goddess is bid adieu with as much fervour as her homecoming. Watching uncountable idols of the Goddess being immersed in the Hooghly River, which passes through West Kolkata, is a sight worth remembering and capturing in your camera. Make sure you do not skip this event!