Previously having the distinction of being called the ‘Rio Carnival of the East’, the festival of Durga Puja has been now officially declared as the biggest carnival in the world. And how can it be best enjoyed if not by being present in the hotspot of the grandeur? So, here’s a preview of what awaits you during the celebrations of Durga Puja in Kolkata.
Let’s proceed with the assumption that you know what Durga Puja is about. For those who have no clue, it’s the worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga and her children, whose idols are hosted in the makeshift Pandals for the around five days. Now, let’s proceed.
The Craftsmanship in the Pandals
The hard work, the details, the planning that goes into building the pandals is best appreciated when you tour them. Pandals are built either according to specific themes or kept simple. While you would appreciate the artistic ‘theme’ pandals like Shivmandir Sarbojanin or Santoshpur Lake Pally, you should visit the Bagabazar or Ekdalia Evergreen for their traditional ties. (Pandal hopping is a thing that always excites me!)
A City on its Streets
During the days of the festivity, the city streets are sprawling with denizens as well as tourists. For those who enjoy observing people, this is a brilliant opportunity for you. Just camouflage with the crowd, visit the pandals– it’s all too good. Oh! And the extravaganza stretches all night as well. The traffic is always on, so are the people- the city gets just all energetic and charged up during the period. And before you realise, the vibrancy gets you too!
Okay, now since the whole families are out for pandal hopping, who should cook for them? Aha! That’s where street food comes in! You can see stalls mushroomed around major pandals selling everything from Biriyani to ice creams to popcorns to fuchkas and chats– as if the city has dished out a buffet for you!
There is impressive lighting all around the city- from gigantic chandeliers in pandals to the electronic animated lighting. If you’re tired of pandal hopping, you can just reach a high place and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire city. The lit up city is a confluence of colourful lights, decorated like a cheerful bride! Trust me, there is no sight in any city so iridescent, so spectacular!
… and the Sounds
You wake up to the loudspeakers playing the ‘mahalaya’ or mantras being chanted with the beats of the traditional drums called ‘dhaaks’. Loudspeakers are always on, with announcements, music, children blowing horns, the sound of the ‘dhaak’- the city offers an audio-visual treat. (When outside, close your eyes for a moment and try to seep in what the city exclaims out to you! It’s up for a conversation, are you?)
The Amazing Dhaakis
The term dhaaki is used to refer to players of the traditional drums dhaak. Decorated with a stick of the kash flower, the drums are melodically beaten at a rhythm by the expert dhaakis and you’d find your feet tapping with the beat. Don’t be shy, hit the floor to dance. No moves required, just the energy is enough. In case you’re short on that, their beats and movements would energize you! (If you can manage to reach Sealdah Station on Panchami morning, you will be opportune enough to listen to 5000+ of these dhaakis playing their dhaaks!)
The Dhunuchi Dance
Dhunuchi is an earthern pot which is lit by using dried outer shells of coconuts. Held at the handle or the base, it is a custom for the Puja as the dance with hands holding them. At some places you can find the dancers with as many as 3 dhunuchi. I trust you would have a camcorder along? If not, then let your eyes capture it all.
This is one aspect that involves the social elements of the celebrations. Adda refers to the light mood chat sessions that is omnipresent in Kolkata, but the Puja is time when nostalgia, distant friends and family meet up and engage in gossips at the pandals. You can join these groups or have your own too. The jovial mood that sets in at the precincts of the pandal gives the extra feel to the gossips. Maddox Square is one place where the ground sees a plethora of people squatted in groups for the same. Food stalls are abundant, so you will never run out of food or beverages.
The Cultural Programs
There are stages set up for cultural programs or concerts at several puja pandals like Maddox Square, Tridhara Samillani etc. Famous artists perform at these concerts or even junior cultural groups or individuals present their art. A fair amount of crowd is drawn here.
Near pandals like Mohd. Ali Park, Bagbazar, fairs are set up where stalls of food, handicrafts etc. are set up along with rides. The giant wheel might offer you a panoramic view of the festivity.
Finally, The Visarjan
Like all good things, the carnival must also come to an end. The day of Dashami signifies the end of the Puja for that year. Ladies of the neighbourhood line up to bid the goddess farewell with arranged thaalis in their hand. After some rituals, it is customary for the women to play colours with the crimson powder, applying it to each other and this is done wearing a white saree with red borders (considered sacred for the purpose). Afterwards, grand processions are taken out to immerse the idols in the water. Music, dance and crackers are must in the procession as people want the final moments of the Puja to be as jovial and not tearful. So, it concludes on a high as well.
So that’s a preview of some chapters of the fantasy novel series that Durga Puja seems in Kolkata. The lights, the sound, the jovial celebrations, the cheerful crowd– a confluence of activities that is guaranteed to leave you spellbound.
Ah, and you appreciate the justification of Kolkata being proclaimed as ‘the City of Joy’!
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He is currently pursuing Computer Science and Engineering from Haldia Institute of Technology. (You shall be spared the boring details.)
He has an interest in photography, exploration and travel; which is only superseded by a passion for writing and reading. Observant and pensive blended with an adventurous, instinctive personality. A game for challenges!