Celebrating Durga Puja in Kolkatta in Hinduism


When is the Durga Puja in Kolkata this year, 2019? 

The dates for each year’s occasion are available on the Bengali almanac, commonly called the Panjika. In 2019, it is to commence on 4th October and continue up to 8th October, Tuesday. 

Kolkatta Durga Mata

The Durga Puja celebration in Kolkata is more than just being religious worship. It ushers a city-wide carnival of grand festivities for five days. The huge metropolis with an estimated population of 14 million people decks up in colors and lights. Elaborate pandals or temporary architectures house the Goddess and her divine family. There are practically thousands of pandals all over the city and the suburbs.

Together with the beautiful idols, the lighting, and highly creative designs, most of these are extraordinary visual delights. Many of these come with a budget that can exceed the price of a posh apartment in the city! It is actually surprising because, after five days of the celebration, they would dismantle the entire structure.

The preparations would go on for months prior to the puja. It is important to complete all preparations at least one day before the puja starts because people start coming. A massive number of people walk from one pandal to the next exploring the magical creatures. Such is the great charm that the endless streams of people on the streets do not cease even during the night time, for at least five days of the Puja!

With millions walking together in special pedestrian routes you cannot turn either right or left or back for a considerable time. One has to keep walking in a snail’s pace for hours, if not for the entire night. Those who do pandal hopping in the night take rest in the day to start again that same evening. The crowd gets heavier in the evening to enjoy the spectacular lighting display all around. There is always this sense of urgency because nothing will be there to see after the Puja is over.

Image Source Unsplash

According to the rituals, the idols are immersed in the river and the pandals dismantled.  It is no wonder that whole Bengal, and especially Kolkata waits eagerly for the special occasion throughout the year. Countdown to the celebrations starts at least one month in advance. The making of pandals can take up to three-four months. If you are planning to visit this Puja, it should be the right time to get an advance booking in any of the city hotels. The hospitality landscape in Kolkata accommodates travelers from all over the world in all kinds of budget. Whether you want to stay luxuriously or just need a simple, clean place for your boarding, all the options are available.

Every year, the organizers plan on presenting something so amazing that they should become the foremost crowd-pullers. These result in ‘themes’, which are very popular. It can range from anything to anything, from traditional to contemporary, and everything in between.  For example, if the theme is ‘rain in the forest’, the decorators would work their creative ideas around it. They would design creative designs that can be extensively elaborate. Imagine entering the premises of the pandal through a brief stretch of dense forest-like ambiance. Then, inside, you find an old broken temple with the idol of the Goddess.

Such amazing re-creations of fantasy are to be seen to be believed. It is no wonder that Durga Puja is the greatest celebration among the Bengali populace all over the world. Anywhere there is a Bengali community, you would expect an arrangement for the Puja. It is always a great occasion for a family get-together with friends. Many family members may live abroad or in other parts of India. During the Puja, everyone would make the most serious effort to come and attend the festivities. Everywhere seems to come to bustle with new life. People were new clothes. There is music playing all around. Happy faces can be seen all around.

An entire city transforms into the mode of a carnival. All households without exception plan upon something new to do in the Puja. Either you would be eating special dishes, wear the most amazing clothes, travel somewhere, take photos, arrange a great get-together, or read a new book. Actually, all major newspaper and magazine publications release special puja editions.

These voluminous books contain a collection of stories, poems, and images that make the occasion further special. Moreover, there would be multiple options as all major publishers release these, some of them even multiple editions. The music and film sector also remains busy with new releases to grace the occasion.

The preparations for the Puja start at least two months before it and picks up steam as the actual day approaches. Pre-puja shopping is a feat in itself and often makes news headlines because everyone makes a dash at buying new clothes. Companies compete with each other to up-sell their products, and design advertisement campaigns centered on the occasion. As you can guess, everything and everywhere the celebratory mood shows in the most amazing way.     

Here is a brief overview of various special attractions.

Plan a trip for visiting the most attractive pandals.

Absorb this fantastic display of all-round creativity. The city turns into a magical landscape with anything from old palaces to fantasy structures springing up seemingly out of nowhere. Let the wonders settle in you as you take time to explore the detailed artistry. However, remember that for such close inspection, you can only choose the day time. During the nights, the streets become too crowded to stand and enjoy the amazement. You may miss the light-work, but the comfort of visiting without crowds is really worth-while.

You can also take a car on rent or book the yellow taxis to travel from one place to another if you are a visitor to the city. These days several tour operators in the city arrange guided exploration of the well-known attractions. You can contact these as well. Just so you know, not even anyone living in Kolkata can claim to see all the idols and decorations in the city. There are just too many to manage in only four days. So, you would need to make a good plan.

The city has three main parts, the North, Central, and the South. Each area has its unique cultural identity that an experienced tour guide can identify for you. (Hint: North Kolkata is more traditional than the urban crowd of the Southerners. The Central area is somewhere balancing in between.) Peek over a map of the city, mark the most important attractions in the area and go for an enjoyable trip. Do not forget to take your camera for there would be numerous fantastic sights to capture.

If you really want to enjoy the spectacular lighting works in the evening then get ready to walk, it is as simple as that. Even if you are hiring a vehicle, chances are you will still be walking for considerable distances before entering into the pandals. Besides, getting a parking space can be a problem. Make sure that you are renting from an experienced agency. Compare the rates and book though. Some people may tend to take more than a fair rent. Usually, all businesses ask for special commissions and extras because of the Pujas and cab-drivers are no exceptions. However, it should not be in excess, and you got to be careful about it.

Anyway, the massive lighted arcs make it worthwhile. Imagine a huge arched gate that can extend up to the height of two to three-storey buildings, entirely made of decorated colorful LED lights. Furthermore, expert technicians code these circuits to display wonderful animations. See a scintillating blue cascade of water or the sun rising behind the hills. Apart from these specialized displays, almost all major pandals exhibit massive glamorous chandelier that immediately transpires you to a royal atmosphere.

Street Food

Sweets

Do not forget to treat yourself on the street foods of Kolkata during the Puja. It turns out to be a spicy extravaganza of mouth-watering treats all around. Try the various ‘rolls’ that are the specialties of the city. These are made of fried chapatti with an inner layer of omelet (the egg roll), or fried mutton/chicken (the mutton roll/chicken roll), or both (the egg-mutton roll).

The inner filling would also consist of salad sprinkled with lime and black pepper and a splash of sauce. It can get very spicy and hot so you need to inform beforehand whether you need a ‘hot’ one or a ‘moderate’ one as you place the orders at any of the numerous street food counters. The momo or the Kolkata version of Tibetan dumplings is another popular food item. Vegetarians also have plenty of options including veg-momo or veg-rolls.

The City of Joy is world-famous for sweet dishes. You can find shops selling sweets in almost every part of the city. You can buy single sweet pieces or as many as you want! Try the Rasagullas of course, being so famous, but there are other wonderful options as well. If you have a good friend in the city take him or her on your trip to help you with these wonderful attractions uniquely found here.

Dressing

People wear ethnic dresses besides the usual jeans and t-shirts. In all pandals, it is customary to see a gathering of young lovebirds huddled in their own world. The ambiance of the Puja is created by the beats of the Dhak, which is a native percussion instrument of Bengal. The humdrum of Dhak and the chanting of mantras by the priest during the worship create an out-of-the-world experience. Visit Kolkata to enjoy the magic of Durga Puja this year. It is an unforgettable experience that you can never replace with anything else.

Image Source: Unsplash

Historical background of Durga Puja

You must be wondering about the historical and cultural background of the worship of the Mother Goddess! The story of this great celebration comes from the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. In that epic story, prince Rama invoked the blessings of the Great Goddess before embarking on the journey to rescue the captive princess Sita from the palatial prison of Ravana, the King of demons. The original ceremonious occasion of worshipping the Goddess was during the spring season. However, pressed by the urgency to rescue Sita and defeat the demons, prince Rama invoked her presence untimely in the autumn.

As he emerged victorious from this great battle, the Puja had been held in this season ever since to celebrate the great achievement.  Wealthy landowners had begun this tradition in Bengal during the late 1500s who sought the grace of the Mother Goddess. The figure worshipped is the ten-armed incarnation of the Goddess, who rides a Lion and rises above the impaled demon Mahishasura. She is not alone and is accompanied by her daughters Laxmi and Saraswati, who fights demons with her. The divine family is complete with Ganesha and Karthikeya, the sons of the Goddess.

She is the consort of Lord Shiva and returns to Him after five days of being among the mortals. The ritualistic immersion of her idol in the Holy River Ganga symbolizes her return to her husband. The idols of the Goddess are made with great creativity. They can either be very traditional or made in the creative visualization of the artist. The idols are made in special traditional huts by people who have been creating this for generations.

The most famous of these local studios of clay craftsmanship is Kumartuli in North Kolkata. It becomes a hubbub of great activity with artisans working late night to create grandiose ten-headed idols of Goddess Durga and also that of her sons and daughters. It is an intensive task and actually continues almost for eight to nine months, thereby making the Puja a truly year-long event. It is usual to see photographers visiting Kumartuli during this hectic season to exhibit surreal images of the Goddess in the making.

The entire creation can either be made separately or within the frame of an aek-chala. The aekchala is a curved frame in the background that accommodates all members of the divine family. It is displayed in a colorful format, often depicting images from the myths. The aekchala is a traditional way of worshipping the Goddess and is usually seen in old households. The modern creative themes are commonly seen in urban-themed Pujas. However, many urban organizers also celebrate the Goddess in the aekchala way.     

The Goddess has ten arms, each holding a specified weapon or graced object. The myths relate that she was created by the combined energies of all the Gods of heavens to defeat the demon who had the boon to be defeated only by the hands of a woman. So, she came into existence, for the purpose of destruction, the consort of Shiva himself, the Almighty God of Destruction.

The Puja itself is an elaborate affair, with each day for a specified purpose. If you want to observe the day to day rituals closely, see if you can stay with a traditional joint family where they hold their own Puja. It should be amazing to watch the rituals from a close quarter. From the adornments to the expressions on her face, the idol of the Goddess is mesmerizing. She graces mighty weapons like the trident, the bow, the sword, the thunderbolt, and the axe with the same grace as she holds the lotus in her lotus fingers. She also adorns the snake as a garland and rides a ferocious lion that carries her into the battlefield. Visualize the image of a hungry beast tearing a demon, held impaled by the trident of the Goddess. Such images stay forever etched in the memories of the onlookers.

Pooja and Yagnam

 The Mahalaya

The Mahalaya is celebrated a fortnight ahead of the Puja. It is a narrative recounting of the mighty deed of the Goddess who hunted the demon down following a battle of illusions. This recitation can be heard on a very early morning on the radio. It is an age-old tradition in Bengali families to wait the whole night and switch on the radio at 4:30 A.M to listen to the narration of Mahalaya. It is indeed a very spiritual experience listening to the energetic Sanskrit chanting in the early hours of the day. This ritual heralds the celebratory mood of the occasion and tells everyone that after a year of waiting, the greatest celebration of Bengalis is already here.

News channels start announcing about the preparations two months well-in-advance.  You can easily understand the hype that grows louder and louder until all of a sudden the dates of the Puja comes in the calendar. There is this realization that this great gala is going to be over in only four days, so people try to soak in as much thrill as they can, that can fulfill the waiting for another year of the Puja. It is time for growing relationships. Many young couples know each other for the first time, illumined in the magical light of the festival.

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