If Mumbai is prominent for its Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, Kolkata has one of the grandest festivals featured, Durga Puja. The capital city does not leave behind any enthusiasm or euphoria while celebrating Durga Puja.
The festival is observed from September to October, or during the month of Ashwin in the Indian calendar.
Traditionally, people celebrate the festival for 10 days, with a focus on the last five days. During this period, pandals, or tents, open up to exhibit the glorious Goddess Durga idols, and on the tenth day of the festival, people immerse the goddess in the water with grand processions and celebrations.
During Durga Puja, the occasion adds a festive vibe to the entire city of Kolkata. Soul and vigour are everywhere among people and devotees of the Goddess. They hail her as the embodiment of protection, motherhood, and strength.
Here is everything you need to know about the magnificent Durga Puja in Kolkata:
The story behind the festival
According to Hindu mythology, the Gods created Goddess Durga to defeat the demon Mahishasura. Only a female could defeat the demon Mahishasura, not a god or a man.
It was Durga who killed Mahishasura and emerged victorious when the demon started creating havoc. In epics, she is seen as an independent deity. Her name in Sanskrit means ‘the impenetrable’ and she appears as a warrior goddess. The followers of Goddess Durga believe she is the epitome of victory, liberation, and ultimate power.
Her many hands hold the weapons given by the gods, such as the chakra, conch, bow, sword, javelin, and more. People greatly anticipate the celebrations of Durga every year in Kolkata, where she is also viewed as the mother goddess.
Rituals and practices observed
The rituals and practises of Durga Puja remain different from one region to another. Kolkata follows its own set of customs from the start of the festival until the end.
The first day of the festival, also called Mahalaya, marks an auspicious ritual. On this day, artisans cast their eyes on the idols of Goddess Durga. Devotees practise this because they believe that the Goddess descends to earth only after they paint her eyes.
Deity comes home
On the sixth day of the festival or Sashti, households bring home the idols of Goddess Durga. These beautifully sculpted and decorated idols either stay at home or sit in a public pandal. The idol is further adorned with flowers, jewellery, clothes, and red vermillion, as well as sweets kept in front of her.
Accompanying the Goddess is the idol of Lord Ganesha, who is considered to be her child, as Durga is Parvati’s reincarnation.
On the seventh day or Maha Saptami, people observe the pran pratishta ritual to invoke the presence of the goddess. Early in the morning, worshippers carry a small banana plant called Kola Bou along a nearby river. It is then bathed, dressed in a red sari, and brought back in a procession.
The worshippers place the Kola Bou near the idol of Goddess Durga. After performing this custom, they conduct ritualistic prayers and puja for the remaining days.
The tenth day of the festival, called Dashami, accounts for the day when Goddess Durga defeated Mahishasura. This day, known as Vijayadashami, also marks the time when the Goddess prepares to leave. Excited devotees gather in large processions and carry the Goddess to the ghats. People immerse the idols in the water while remaining in high spirits.
One of the most significant aspects is that women, especially married women, initiate the procession first by applying red sindoor or vermillion powder to the Goddess and then to one another. People believe that this symbolises marriage and fertility.
How to enjoy the Durga Puja to the fullest:
If you want an immersive experience, it is recommended to visit Kolkata a week before the Durga Puja starts. However, there are several other ways to enjoy the festival as well.
1. See the idols being sculpted
The majority of the artisans who sculpt the idols of Goddess Durga reside in one famous area: Kumartuli in North Kolkata. Here, you can view the stunning sculptures of the Goddess and appreciate the efforts that go into making them.
You can also observe the Chokkhu Daan ritual, where people draw eyes to summon the presence of Goddess Durga on Mahalaya.
2. Pandal hopping
During Durga Puja, thousands of pandals remain open to the public and showcase the grandiose idols of Goddess Durga all over the city. One of the best things to do during the festival is to visit the towering pandals.
The décor and unique theme set each pandal apart from the others Pandal hopping is the highlight of Durga Puja. Although the crowds are smaller during the day, it is suggested that you visit them at night when they light up and display colourful illuminations.
3. Traditional Bonedi Bari puja
The aristocratic landowners residing in the city perform a Bonedi Bari puja during the festival. The puja takes place in the families’ ancient yet private mansions. A dedicated area, primarily a courtyard, hosts the puja, with worship accompanied by delicate chandeliers, a sublime interior, and gorgeous decorations.
The families conducting the puja have preserved Bonedi Bari worship for centuries and continue to perform it traditionally. It is the women who lead Bonedi Bari during Durga Puja.
4. Relish on street food
Attending Durga Puja without tasting the street food of Kolkata? This is an impossible scenario! As the carnivalesque vibe continues during the festive season, it is hard not to indulge in the popular street foods of the city.
Delicious Kathi rolls, steaming momos, and Kolkata-style Puchkas are always in demand during Durga Puja. Furthermore, traditional Bengali snacks and sweets are also lined up, along with other delicacies.
5. Witness the Visarjan
Dashami, or the last day of Durga Puja, marks the end of the festivities. In the evening, they immerse the idols of Goddess Durga in the water. You can watch the ritual take place on any of the ghats along the river in Kolkata. The lively procession during the Visarjan features women donning red sindoor and accompanying Goddess Durga.
The easiest way to enjoy Durga Puja in Kolkata is by taking a private or public tour, which can provide an overall experience of the celebration.
Durga Puja in 2021
Durga Puja will commence on October 6, 2021, and end on October 15, 2021. Here are the dates of the notable days during the festival:
- Mahalaya, October 6, 2021
- Maha Panchami, October 10, 2021
- Maha Sashti, October 11, 2021
- Maha Saptami, October 12, 2021
- Maha Ashtami, October 13, 2021
- Maha Navami, October 14, 2021
- Vijaya Dashami, October 15, 2021
Durga Puja is one of the most important festivals that showcases the beautiful Bengali culture. It is also part of a huge celebration in India. The festival commemorates Goddess Durga and is reminiscent of her epics.
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