It’s that time of the year again and the City of Joy is abuzz with frenetic activity towards the countdown of Durga Pujo. Workers are perched precariously on bamboo structures, adding finishing touches to glorious pandals, the roads are blocked, last minute shoppers flood into New Market and other arcades, the metros are brimming full with people and shopping bags; but nobody minds – after all Ma aschen and she must be received with pomp and splendour.
The oncoming five days will be celebrated with such unrestrained revelry and energy that you’ll find an inexplicable excitement gripping your heart. Be it the sudden bursts of dhak on the streets, the pandals standing imposingly, hoardings that hide pavements with gigantic faces of the deity that symbolises maternal essence or the countless lights strung up which will light up the entire city in a matter of days.
All of Kolkata spills out on the streets, sleepless and breathless, surrounded by surreal beauty. The festival isn’t just a carnivalesque spectacle, it’s an exultation of spirit. We remind you of the unique features of Durga puja to help you give in to the tide of mirth and cheer that is the festival.
Mahishasur Mardini recital on Mahalaya
The soul-stirring strains of "Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu, Shanti Rupey na Sanskrita..." floods into houses at 4 am as people switch on the radio to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra's rich baritone intoning the Mahishar Mardini recital on Mahalaya. The fervour and energy in his voice paints a vivid picture of the tale of Durga defeating evil.
Fragrance of Shiuli flowers
These sweet-scented flowers bloom in autumn and their smell hangs heavy in the air. You might be strolling around when you suddenly collide with the sweet smell and take in huge gulps of air to conjure up the smell in your head later on. The sweet smell is one of the first precursors of the oncoming festival.
Notun jama kapor
You must look your best when you receive Ma Durga and so new clothes and accessories must be had. People flock into the major shopping areas of the city to bargain and negotiate and then take home their loot to deliberate over what to wear on which day. After all, you must dress to impress that boy-next-door who'll be smartly turned out in a panjabi kurta!
The lure of Kumartuli
Ambitious photographers and experience-seekers with camera in hand tread the narrow streets of Kumartuli to take artistic shots of potters moulding clay to create the Goddess. These photographers sometimes get yelled at or ushered out by irate potters with too little time on hand for small talk or bumbling tourists.
The lit City of Joy
With thousands of lights strung up in every nook and cranny of the city, the lights are turned on and the city stands, glittering. There are canopies of twinkling lights when you look up and arches with mesmerising patterns of lights playing out series.
Pandal hopping with no curfew
A must-do activity during puja, you must blend into the mass of people which will carry you to brightly lit pandals with innovative designs and sound. Outside the pandal, the atmosphere is carnivalesque with the sizzling aroma of street food, flying bubbles in the air, loud noises and cotton candy in abundance.
Dhak Bajano in pure mirth
The thump of the dhak reverberates powerfully through the atmosphere as the priest sways to the beat and worships the Goddess. Everyone present stands either stands spellbound or the join the dhak players to dance to the rhythm.
Dhunuchi Naach - the palpable energy in the air
The beats of the dhak pick up and the para (neighbourhood) members bring out burning pots of incense and coconut husk. These fiery pots are held by hands and even the mouth while pulling off deft dance steps and scattering the incense in the air.
The reverence that Ashtamir Anjali embodies
Ashtami morning sees freshly bathed and dressed people crowded inside pandals, waiting to pay obeisance to the Goddess. Several are extremely hungover from Saptami night's binge-drinking on Old Monk.
The happiness at Pujor Bhog
The community event involves all and sundry sitting together at long tables and eating a simple lunch of piping-hot khichuri, sabzi, papad and payesh all the while exchanging loud greetings across tables.
The invigorating sight of Devir Bodhon
As Panchami night explodes into colour and lights, somewhere in a pandal the Devi's face is unveiled at last and weapons are placed in her hands, infusing her idol with life.
A joyride for gluttons
An all-free pass on binge-eating tangy puchka, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth fish fries and other countless varieties of the local cuisine.
The different hues of the festival
Red is the colour of the day on Navami, as married women colour each other's faces with vermilion. This symbolises the power of womanhood which shields families from the demons of evil.
Bidding goodbye to Ma
Amidst a melange of music, frenzied dancing, loud drumbeats and tears, the Goddess is bid farewell. Next year, she will come again.
People round up the festival by eating copious amounts of yummy deserts and saying "Asche Bochor Aabar Hobe"!
What are you doing this pujo? Tell us in the comments below!
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