So when it’s Durga Puja (and if especially in Kolkata), you MUST do as the Bengalis do. USP: Also, impress your bong girlfriend/boyfriend/fiance/mother-in-law/father-in-law and blend in like a BOSS!
When you start seeing words like ‘Ma Aschen’, Bhog and Pandal on your Facebook timelines, it can only mean one thing. It’s Durga Puja season. The 5 days long festivities that mark the high point of every Bengali’s cultural calendar. It’s that time of the year when every non-Bengali wishes she could turn Bengali just so she could partake of this amazing festival. It’s also that time of the year when the usually plain speaking Bong starts being extra sweet. Almost like he’s the week-long brand ambassador for KC Das’s rosogolla and sandesh! If you find this diabetes inducing avatar a little confusing and you ask yourself “why so sweet?” , don’t worry, we’ve got this decoded for you. Take your cursor to the centre of each image and drag right to see what a Bong typically says during Puja and then drag left to figure what she actually means. There, it’s that simple!
Mahalaya is basically when the countdown begins
A week before the ‘actual’ puja starts, every year on this day, Bengali around the world will wake up at 4.30 in the night (morning?) to the emotion-choked voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra chanting the traditional mantra, invoking Maa Durga to the surreal beats of the dhaak. This day marks the inception of Durga Puja. (And yes, do greet your bong acquaintances “Shubho Mahalaya!” on that day to win hearts and brownie points!)
The sounds of the dhak is the only music you want to listen to
Each pandal has its own theme and a stunning sculpture of Goddess Durga. Devotees (revellers?) often go to as many as 10 pandals in a single night. It’s an entire night program that can continue for four entire days starting from shoshti (6th Day) when Ma Durga’s idol is revealed to the public. Each pandal has a different theme. You name it. We Bongs have made it.
A week before Navratri begins; the idols of Goddess Durga are being painted and made ready except for the eyes. On the occasion of Mahalaya, the Goddess is invited on earth with rituals and so on this day the eyes are drawn on the idols in an auspicious ritual called Chokku Daan. It is believed the Goddess descends to earth at the time of drawing the eyes on the idols. Kumartuli or potter’s locality is a famous place in North Kolkata where majority of the idols are made.
The office isn't stressful
Nah, no Monday blues during pujo. All bongs are looking forward to an evening where they will get into their best attire and visit the pandal. Of course, no one is there until the friends are there. It's just unfashionable to arrive early with no known soul around to mingle with.
Shopping, shopping, shopping
If you are in Calcutta, clothing stores are choc-a-bloc with shoppers who are ready to grab the best clothes in stock. If you are wondering why your internet speed is slow or why your online purchases aren't being approved, it's because Flipkart, Myntra or whatever site you are on, is facing heavy traffic thanks to cut throat festive prices.
This is probably why everyone looks their absolute best (or a few notches below) at the pandal.
A managed wardrobe
After all that shopping, you know exactly which outfit to wear on which day. Mind you, there's a morning outfit and a night outfit plus emergency backup outfits.
Pandal hopping and adda are like french fries and ketchup
The gorgeously decorated pandals each emphasize a theme; be it the legends of Goddess Durga or scenes from Hindu epic texts. Nowadays, some pandals are themed on a social cause to spread awareness. Day time is usually better to see the pandals closely when the crowd is less however; the brightly lit pandals in hundreds of colors is quite a sight of its own in the evenings.
Khaabo, aami shob khaabo
It’s no secret that Bengalis are foodies. And Durga Puja is a fine time to showcase our love for food. You just cannot diet during Pujos! It is a celebration of all senses, with the sense of taste ruling the pack. Egg Roll, Biriyani, roadside chowmein, Mughlai paratha, Chicken Kabiraji with sandeshes, rosogullas, raj bhog to sweeten the taste buds after the fiery food. *gasps*
You know what’s happening in the pandel
If you have a special skill or are gifted with dancing shoes that doesn’t pinch, this is the time to show what you’ve got. Volunteer yourself for your local pandal entertainment and you’ll be eligible to win goodies and hearts. So most pandals, after the evening `aarti’ have an entertainment program for the young and the old ranging from dance to singing to monologues! Clap along.
Kola Bou Bath
This takes place on the seventh day, when early in the morning; a small banana plant called Kola Bou is taken to the river to be bathed and dressed in a red bordered sari and carried back in a procession to be placed near the idol of the Goddess. This is then followed by ritualistic prayers and puja, that will take place for all the remaining days of the festival. There are also a lot of cultural activities that takes place as part of the celebrations. People come together to dance, sing, perform plays and traditional.
Anjali on Ashtami
There is Anjali every morning of the Puja on the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth day. It is a prayer to Ma Durga showering her with flowers and welcoming the good into our lives. Ashtami Anjali is an integral part of the worship. The priest hands over the flowers to everyone and all you have to do is recite and repeat the mantras as chanted by him.
Food is a major feature of the Kolkata Durga Puja festival and Kolkata is reputed to be a foodie’s paradise. Sure enough, in a festival this grand you are bound to find the most delicious and incredible variety of Bengali cuisine. From snacks and sweet dishes that only Kolkata is famous for; to the Kolkata Durga Puja special themed Bhog meals that has a little of everything. All the pandals offer Bhog (offerings made to the Goddess Durga which is later distributed among the devotees) and community kitchens are also set up.
Kumari Puja at Belur Math was performed a short while ago with usual respects and happiness. Many devotees arrived at the Math and witnessed the puja this morning during Bong’s cultural Durga Puja. It spreads the idea of harmony of religions and helps to develop harmonious personalities and traditions.
Eye candy, eye candy, eye candy, everywhere
Yes, you’re right. Saree! And saree. And then the laal paar saree. The traditional red and white Bengali saree. Check. A matching blouse with puffed sleeves. Check. A big red bindi. Check. A little hint of kohl in the eyes. Check. And a big smile to carry this look.
Difficult to be a maven at this, it’s every Bong’s secret wish to be smokin’ at this dance- which consists of balancing an earthen pot filled with burning coconut husk (It’s pretty hot!) If you can do it with the dhunucchi balanced on your head, in your mouth or with one is each hand you’ll be called a true Bong.
The Bong look with sindoor khela
On this day , Goddess Durga is worshipped and offered many things as she is prepared to leave. Highly enthusiastic devotees gather in large numbers to join the procession that carries the Goddess to the ghats to be immersed in water. Women, especially married woman initiate the procession by first applying red sindoor or vermillion powder on the Goddess and then to each other. It is said to be a symbol of marriage and fertility. The immersion of the idol is similar to the immersion of the Ganesha idol during Ganesh Chaturti. Babu Ghat is one of the popular places for immersion located near Eden Garden.
The tune that consistently played in your head is ‘Thakur ashche kotokhon, thakur jabe bishorjon’ to the beats of a dhak! The sight of Kaash flowers swayed on your way to work or the Shiuli tree near the bus stop makeed your head nod in approval. Your phone only had photos of half done, incomplete Durga ma idols from the nearby pandal. Forgot Bhangra and Hip-hop, your favourite form of dance suddenly became the 'dhunuchi naach'. Your Facebook status messages were all about ‘Pujar gondho’, ‘Pujar feel’ and ‘Can’t wait’ and expected everyone to get it. The prospect of eating khichudi and laabda maked you went ‘Yummy’ instead of ‘What Ma! No maachh!?’ Men looked forward to this year pujo because that was the only time their women looked like a real goddess every hour of the day for four whole days! You were happy and melancholied at the same time, because Ma came and went in 4 days and it was all too much for you.
"Lust, anger and greed, these three are the soul-destroying gates of hell."
নারী মানে পুরুষ ভোগে নয় সে কলঙ্কিনী, নারী মানেই সৃষ্টির সুখে নবরূপে আগমনী।
Note from the Author,
" Travel made me rich and free. Magic and miracles are true , once you wander on the roads to places different and divine. I have collected so many thoughts and stories while being a Tour & Trek guide for last seven years. Sharing with you all, those memories and stories , and wishing you all , that someday you guys travel far and wide too. I am not a great writer , so ignore my grammar and spellings, read it with feelings, and you might just be affected with the wanderlust to hit the road"