You can take the craze of Diwali in Delhi, Christmas in London, Summer Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Valentine's day in Paris and then add it to the month long madness of Olympic Games or the World Cup and cram all that into a span of 5 days and you still wouldn't know what you are missing if you haven't been in Kolkata during Durga Puja.
Here is a brief account of all the amazing things one witness in the great extravaganza called Durga puja. What to expect and be prepared for if you are comming.
An experience through a traveler's eyes!!
The present festival being held in the month of autumn has its source in the mythology of the epic Ramayana. Where Lord Ram , worshipped the goddess mother in order to seek blessing before his war against his rival Lord Ravana. Since then , all over iNDIA the festival is held in this season of autumn. Through out the country the festival is termed as navaratri , but , in Bengal it takes the form of the largest of its festival for the region. The Durga Puja. It is no more just a festival , It is an industry now a days where large amount of transaction of art and culture takes place , booming the economy and providing livelihood to millions of people who are directly and indirectly dependent on this grand show. Whatever it is , it will be not boasting to say the mother blesses all its children on its arrival. Spreading smile with generating earnings and incomes.
The idols are made at different parts of the city , but one area which stands out and boasts of expert hands in formation of the goddess is the KUMARTULI area situated in the northern parts of Kolkata. All men and women belonging from kumartuli are involved in this art of personifying the deities for ages , and they are the best on the buisness. The sticky clay is supplied from the depths of the Hoogly river flowing by the side of the Kumartuli , helps in building the perfect face and body of the deities. The idols are so well known and famous it is also exported from the country to other parts of the world during this festival season. The income and earning of the sculptors amounts for the half of the year's earnings for their family, from this festival . Boosting the economy as well as distribution of money and wealth.
The area is a photographers delight on the eve of durga puja and a must visit if you consider yourself clicking fanatic. If you can be there on the morning of mahalaya , the first day of navratri , you see a special artistic ritual. The ritual called " chakhsu daan " meaning the gifting of eye to the idols on that special day. Worth visiting , don't miss next year.
Shopping is vital part of any festival , and this being the grand one in Bengal, the marketing episode starts a month and half prior to the pujas. Busy markets and streets all around in calcutta if you come before the Pujas. Bargaining to big brands buying with close friends or family , that has its own fun in this special eve of the Pujas.
Though the festival is mainly of four days , saptami , ashthami , nabami and dashami or dusshera , but in calcutta the heat is on from the fourth day of navratri itself. The residents of the city those who stay out of calcutta , cause of work and other purposes start coming back for this few days, to spend time with their families and friends. Its not just a festival , its a reunion of old memories , buddies and loved ones. If you are a Bengali and you are far from home at this period of time , you would certainly have the feeling of the unluckiest person alive on the planet.
Pandals or the temporary temples built for the festivals are the place where the goddess is worshipped and celebrated. The pandals are an amazing things. They are formed on themes and different arts and structures. As shown in the pictures , pandals are built on various imaginations , from UFO's to Big Ben of London , calcutta boasts everything during its grand durga puja. The cost spent on building this temporary piece of shelter sometimes reaches 20 - 50 million rupees. Yes you heard it right. They are exotic , expensive and surely extravagant.
The art of visiting pandals to pandals beholding the different art works and delicacy is called pandal hopping. It is the most favourite pass time of the people of bengal during this festival days. The success of the pandals are based on the number of footfall of viewers they manage to collect in the four days. And the viewership ranges upto 2 million people per night. So if you are in a mood of pandal hopping be ready to face the crowd. Ever heard of the busy local trains and stations of Mumbai railways , well you are gonna experience double that in the durga puja , visiting some of the best Pandals in town. Herds of people stand in queue , bear heat and thrust to witness the art and technology used to build the famous pandals. Traffic jams are also common due to the crowd rush of such intensity. Only the Maha-Kumbh mela can be compared with the crowd that sets in during this days of puja.
Famous for the themes and imaginations , the pandals are built and constructed with various items , which to most of us would seem unimaginable. The way the items are put to use and decorate the pandals is beyond imagination of common men. Students of art colleges are employed to think of innovation , grand artist from around the world are paid to use stuff and create an art that lasts in hearts forever. From clay cups , pots , parts of automobile or rickshaws , safety pins to paper , anything you can imagine is used to build the pandals. The intricate artwork reflects India's profoundness and cream talent. No doubt its an industry of innovation and more than just a religious festival. Here in the above picture as you can see how umbrella's are put to use for decoration. Beautiful surely.
With the on coming of smart phones , clicking pictures of the different pandals and deities are more done in mobiles than cameras. This is mandatory, for nothing is better than a memory, that you have seen and lived the days of durga puja in bengal. You have faced the crowd , had fun with friends , made an infinite memories and some of it captured in pictures!! And how can you not take a selfie , right eh ?? So much so is the craze of selfies , that pandals have stuck up " No SELFIE ZONE " placards inside.
Like the pandals the idols also has the ability to mesmerize the viewers. The idols comes in different styles inspired from different arts around the world. The sculptors show their prowess and expertise through this creation. From Chinese , Greek to Gothic , every artistic styles are reflected in different forms and idols. Their size can also make you awe , for like this one in the picture records the biggest idol made with a staggering 74 feet!! A near stampede was about to happen when millions of viewers had come over to witness this grandeur.
,The Durga Puja is also held in houses of age old royal families or zamindars in calcutta. To witness this homely enviorment of devotion and faith, is an experience different altogether. The different days of the puja has the different rituals with its own importance and wonderful stories behind it , which makes them more special to behold. One must visit a homely puja to take in true essence of the spiritual significance of the puja.
From little toddlers to every men and women, dresses up, in their beautiful ethnic collection. Gives a different touch and takes in a different feel to the Pujas and its essence. The styles and fashions go gallore with good looking men and gorgeous women stealing the trend z on the street. A very attached part of the festival is always the fashion. And lots of it is in show during the Pujas.
The pujas also hold the significance of bringing together generations of the family from grandmothers to grandchild , all are attached in a single beed of the festivel. Not just Reunion of families but of hearts and souls.
Food is anyways a very important part of any bengali festival. During Navaratri , unlike all over India , where people fast , or take veg food and delicacies , In bengal , fishes and meat is rampant during this four days of festival. Small cooks and stalls from corners of India come to offer their best item during the festival and is also greeted with joy and love by the in born foodies of every people living in bengal. As they say in Bengal , Good times is measured in good foods !!
With pandal hopping , meeting up with friends , clicking selfies , eating great food and reuniting with family , you will never know of the time when the puja comes to its last day. In an whisper of time , the good days go past by. The Dusherra is the last day of the festival. It is celebrated all over in India with great joy and devotion. The festival days reflects the annual homecoming of the mother goddess with her children to the plains , and on dushera she returns back to Himalayas to lord Shiva , her husband, as per myth and rituals.
One of the most beautiful ceremonies during the Dushera in Bengal is the " Sindur khela " and " Dhunichi Nach " . The first one is a ritual where the married women greet each other with vermeleon and play a red holi of sort. It is a colorful ritual reflecting the brightness and joy of the festival. The Dhunuchi nach is a dance form specially performed on the eve of dusherra to felicitate the mother with a happy send off and making her glad. Both are important and integral part of the durga puja and must be experienced if you don't want an incomplete experience of the grand show.
The final chapter is of " Visarjan ". This is the ritual when the idols and statues are immersed in the waters so as to let them pass through to heaven where they belong. With a heavy heart , lots of viewers line up by the Hoogly river to witness this act. On that moment a handful of last prayers & wishes are thrown to the mother with faith and belief , that she will bless us all with the fulfillment of our every wants. The mother goes taking away all the darkness and sorrow of our lives , only leaving us waiting for an another year when she will return with more joy and grandeur.
Durga Puja is not just a festival , an industry or a grand show. Its a celebration of life , of what the supreme power has given us and in celebrating it over the four days , we thank the beautiful journey called Life !!!!!
TO EXPERIENCE THIS GRAND FESTIVAL , ENQUIRE FOR THE DURGA PUJA IN BENGAL PACKAGE
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. 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"