Durga Puja. A carnival in India.

Tripoto
15th Oct 2018
Day 1

Maha Shasthi.

It's the kind of irreverence that, paradoxical as it seems, is the hallmark of the Durga Puja in Kolkata. The most agnostic of people can be moved by the climatic Sandhi Puja, when the Goddess slays the demon according to legend, but, for the most part, puja - so universal is its resonance that the mention of the deity is optional. It's a feeling, altogether different.

I attended Durga Puja this year after a gap of 6 years. Little did I know that nowadays people start hopping the pandals across the city from Mahalaya itself! I decided to return from the streets of Gariahat, South Kolkata to my home midway, as I was in my boxers! That was overwhelming and I was enraptured by the grandeur of the city during this time, once again.

Usually people start flooding the streets from Maha Shasthi. The sixth day of Navaratri. Pandal hopping is at the core of Durga Puja. Puja pandals are the nerve centers of the festival. It is here that humanity converges, 24 x 7, in their new puja apparels to seek the blessings of Goddess Durga. Every year thousands of artisans and craftsmen work round the clock to put together around 2,000 big and small pandals in the city, making it the greatest street-art festival on this planet Earth.

This year I attended few pandals on the eve of Maha Shasthi with my parents and covered the North Kolkata ones, in the evening.

That's me with Mom!

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar

Shobha Bajar Raj Bari

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar

Kumartuli

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar

Bagbazar Sarbojonin

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar

Kumartuli

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Day 2

Maha Saptami.

I went out with one my school friends. She happens to stay at Bengaluru. The city was glowing and her mood was happy. A sense of enchantment was palpable. The dhaki's electrifying warm ups, the rhythmic clangs of kanshor ghanta, the mesmeric dance of the LED lamps , the practised Ulu Ulu sounds - it's still hard to capture the potent cocktail built up by anticipation, excitement, excess and an unstated, ever present sense of anything-goes-for-five days here.

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Day 3

Maha Ashtami.

The big day! People offer prayers to the Goddess in the form of Anjali, on the morning of this day. Girls and women will come out in the best of their outfits and poor boys and guys will get bedazzled, on this evening. That's plain and simple age old ritual!

The biggest enabler of the coveted freedoms, of course, is the community puja. As special as the family pujas continue to be five or six centuries after coming into being, Kolkata is essentially synonymous with the baroari puja, funded and run by residents of a locality or, in recent years, an apartment complex. Everyone's invited and everyone's expected to pitch in, be it monetary donations or legwork or the actual puja preparation. Kolkata puja is always about the street, its avenues and bylanes a portal that, for five nights only, transports all celebrants into wonderland.

I met few of my childhood friends and we gorged over the famous biryani and mutton chaap of Arsalan. We were in heaven!

Oops, that's me!

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Day 4

Maha Navami.

It's the ninth day of Navaratri. I met few of my friends and we headed towards the famous Maddox Square. It's Vegas of Kolkata during puja!

The traffic snarls untangle themselves, the bamboo barricades create effective walkways, the food stalls do brisk business. Romance writes itself over the mutton chop at Mitra Cafe, hearts break with a bite of the chicken cutlet at Campari. At Arsalan, the biryani runs out by midnight but the takers still line up, at Zeeshan, they smile and offer the famous Kolkata rolls.

As the hours roll by and the ferris wheels slow down, the streets still remain awash in light art, illuminating the way back home for the wanderers and reluctants. It cocoons the last revellers in a surreal swirl of light and magic dust. Little boys and girls lost at the pandals return to the laps of their mothers.

Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Photo of Durga Puja. A carnival in India. by Suvajit Majumdar
Day 5

Bijaya Dashami.

The last day. The end of Navaratri. Maa Durga idols are immersed in the waters of river Ganges. An unspoken blanket of sadness covers the city only to be lifted by the strong sounds of the voices saying 'Maa, asche bochor abar esho'.

Live a little. Or a lot. Dress up. Hang out. Flirt. Kiss. Get kissed. Date. Dine out. Stay away. Stay awake. Sleep over. All in plain sight. Oh, the joy.

Durga Puja in Kolkata is not a festival. IT IS THE BIGGEST CARNIVAL ON PLANET EARTH!

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