Durga Puja in Kolkata - A Festival to Adore, Admire and Enjoy

by - September 08, 2017

Durga Puja is the most important festival in Bengal. Calcutta dresses up for 9 days, but especially 5 days are the main ones, in which the whole city goes out into the street day and night to visit the different pandals, which temporarily flood the city, with the statues of the goddess Durga, Sarawati, Lakshmi, Ganesh and Kartik inside.

When I read that the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta was like a carnival, I never imagined it would be much more than a celebration with music, dances, performances and colored lights. For 10 days Calcutta is transformed into a true fair of contemporary outdoor art and a center of ancestral ceremonies and rituals that foster communion among all. And it's not like a carnival, Durga Puja is unique in its kind.

I arrived in Calcutta cured of fright, so to speak. I went to New Delhi 10 days before and had visited Agra, Varanasi, and Jaipur. I had enough time to get used to the suffocating heat, humidity, dirt and the urban fauna. I also arrived knowing the chaos of the traffic. Calcutta was not a shock, but it was quite a discovery.

Known nationally as the cultural capital of the country, Calcutta lives up to its nickname during the days of the festival. The city is one of the most metropolitan of India. It exhibits in its streets its rich cultural heritage in the form of immense temporary constructions made mainly of bamboo and fabrics, called Pandals. Within these temporary sanctuaries, the sculpture of the goddess Durga is housed to allow millions of visitors to make their offerings to the deity.

Calcutta is prepared for 10 long months with total commitment for its main annual religious event: Durga Puja. And as the greatest exponent of the country's art, artists take advantage of the altars dedicated to the goddess to express much more than simple veneration. The sanctuaries in themselves are masterpieces with different themes ranging from social protest and avant-garde to religious exaltation through fantastic to historical themes.

Over the years both the sculptures of the goddess and the Pandals are becoming more elaborate. The competition to create the most original sculpture of the deity and the most attractive and surprising Pandal took to the extreme with themes that touch today all areas of Indian life. It ranges from social, cultural, economic, historical, political, ecological and even other more global themes. It thus covers all areas of Indian and international life.

During the months leading up to Durga Puja, local artists leave their eyelashes creating and designing Pandals to house the sculptures of Durga and other deities and, at the same time, surprise visitors with eccentric and colorful works of art.

The sculptures of the deities are created throughout the year in Kumartuli with infinite patience and taking care of every detail. They use the best fabrics to dress Durga and exquisite pieces of jewelry to adorn her. But it is only a few days before the festival when a few and "chosen" experts fast for a full day to prepare mentally and physically to give expression to Durga's eyes.

The kick-off of the festival begin traditionally through a local radio programme that broadcasts various mantras. From there the hustle and bustle in the Pandals is frantic. People begin to arrive from every corner of the country to not miss the party. The artists give the finishing touches to temporary pandals. The expert potters finish the sculptures of the goddess and other deities that will accompany her on the altars. Dozens of trucks travel at full speed through the streets of Calcutta for the goddess to reach her altar as soon as possible.

During the first five days the locals invoke the goddess through ceremonies, mantras and rituals that take place in every corner of the state. It is from the sixth day when the faces of the sculptures of Durga located in the Pandals are opened.

As the key date for the start of the festival is approaching, the city is filled with colored lights. In the kitchens, the bhog made of typical rice and lentil is prepared for the guests. People clean their houses. They remove from the bottom of the closet their best "rags" to be radiant for the day they go to honor their goddess.

People rush to the streets and from the first hour. When I say that the city dresses up, it's not just that the buildings are decorated with colored lights and plants, nor that the pandals, which are very varied, give a different touch to the city, or that the music in the street, traditional or modern, encourage the environment.

It is is that the Bengalis also put on their best clothes to go out on the street those days. Of traditional clothes or Western style, whatever the type of clothing one may choose, it is always elegant and it is seen to be good, of better quality than everyday clothes. As if those five main days were always Sunday. In addition, women also wear more jewelry than usual. If many girl do a little makeup every day, in Durga Puja there is not one that does not have painted the toes.

The tails in front of the different Pandals begin to expand far and wide. The devotees patiently wait their turn to pay tribute for a few minutes to Durga and admire the Pandal in which it is located. We move to the more popular ones like Kumartuli Park, Bagbazaar, College Square, Mohammad Ali Park, Santosh Mitra Square and Badamtala Ashar Sangha

Each neighborhood has dozens of Pandals and the city seems different with more life than ever. It is more colorful and with a very powerful festive energy mixed with the density of humidity, heat and odors that incense and kitchens give off. Suddenly there are more people. It seems impossible to be in the midst of more people than usual in the already overcrowded Calcutta. The Pandals rise tall and stoic every few meters. A walk through the streets is like visiting a huge gallery of outdoor art.

The tenth night is the last night of the festival. We lived on the last day of Durga Puja at Diamond Harbor. Everyone danced like crazy in the streets, while wagons carry Durga and her two daughters and two sons. Women, of all ages and all conditions, put on their best sari and go to the places where the idols are there, to deposit offerings to their feet. Women participate in the sindur khela with vermilion powder. We can then see, everywhere, married women express their joy, dance, and generously apply vermilion marks on the forehead and cheeks.

Durga Puja images wallpaper

People move their sculptures in the middle of an emotional procession. There are ceremonies, mantras, music, and tears. People carry the idols to the sacred river Hooghly to submerge it in the water to immerse it.

Once the truck reaches the top of the steps leading to the Hooghly, the unloading of the goddess gives rise to scenes of effervescence and jubilation. Hardly unloaded from the trucks, the idol bearers perform five traditional tricks in the midst of an enthusiastic crowd. While at the drum, the women perform a few dance steps.

Then comes the descent of the steps to the river, which gives rise to a beautiful jostling. Each tries to immortalize the image of the Goddess before it falls into the waves. The excitement is at its height and one strives to touch the face of the deity one last time.

Meanwhile, a little further, with infinite precautions, the men have deposited a giant effigy on a boat. In the middle of the river, they rock it in the silty water by means of long bamboo poles. In an instant, she disappeared and a long clamor greeted the immersion of Maa Durga.

On the shore, emotion squeezes the audience. Between the arrival of idols, people dip oneself in the river. They splash copiously the sacred water to the dismay of the cameras which fix the scene. Already another glittering idol is ready for the great aquatic journey, soon followed by the kind and faithful Ganesha.

By sneaking boldly into the fray and skillfully playing elbows, we still have a small chance to catch a glimpse of this marvelous and colorful world of gods and goddesses before it finally sinks into the murky water. We were exhausted so we went back before.

Durga Puja is not like a carnival. It is a festival with its own identity that has been adapted to the new century and offers a broad vision of the religious and artistic life of a diverse and sometimes immeasurable country in its extension and complexity. For five days I was part of the thousands of people who walked around the city at night and day, visiting statues and meeting acquaintances.

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53 comments

  1. All the Durgas look alike. I think they use a plaster cast for the face.
    Looks quite beautiful.

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  2. Beautiful photo. Is that a doll?

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  3. Really delicious photo. I love this delightful image.

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  4. the sad and unfortunate part is when they are all immersed in river or sea….oops

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  5. Durga ma looks so pretty... i should thank the persons involved in decorating her in such a good way...

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  6. I love this photo and you other photos too. Thanks for your visit!

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  7. I really enjoyed this post, seeing all your wonderful photos and learning about Durga Puja. It would be wonderful to be there to see all the festivities!

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  8. Beautiful photos...and such a lovely blog. You have a fabulous writing style. Thanks for sharing part of your culture with us all~

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  9. Very interesting post. Nice to learn new culture.

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  10. Pretty interesting . India, a land of Festivals .

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  11. Very nice detailed description! Love the photographs :) and thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment --really appreciate it!

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  12. miss durga pooja of calcutta so much. hv lived in calcutta during my early years but hv not visited in decades now....wld love to visit during navrathir atleast next yr around!

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  13. She is gorgeous! I love the colour and vibrancy of India, it was so amazing to visit! X

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  14. So many beautiful images. Thanks for sharing, Kalyan.

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  15. wow..such a beautiful divine idol...
    chanced upon your space while blog hopping...glad I stopped by..
    very interesting space you have..
    Am your happy follower now..:)
    do stop by mine sometime..
    Tasty Appetite

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  16. Soo beautiful.

    Thanks for stopping by and dropping your comment.

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  17. Estoy viendo tu interesante blog el cual tiene buenas fotografias, va un cordial saludo enla distancia, Rodisi

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  18. Lovely!
    Greetings from Sweden
    /Ingemar

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  19. I so enjoyed reading this post and learning about your culture. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos and festivities.

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  20. nice photos of goddess

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  21. Wav lovely and beautiful clicks...thanks for drop in my space.

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  22. Thank you very much for your visit. I love the beautiful photos and culture you share here.

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  23. It is very interest learning about the customs of different cultures,along with the different foods that are prepared. Blessings, Catherine

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  24. Very beautiful and gorgeous picture of Goddess Durga.

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  25. Wish you and your family a very happy Durga Puja.
    You are welcome at my new posts-
    http://amazing-shot.blogspot.com/
    http://urmi-z-unique.blogspot.com/

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  26. Lovely!
    Wishing you a joyful day,
    Zuzu

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  27. My fav festival! Will miss it this year but will try to enjoy in whatever we have here :)

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  28. Beautiful ... and such a lovely blog to visit :o)

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  29. I love the make up of the godess. Interesting to have a third eye ! I have never seen that before.

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  30. Thankyou for visiting my blog.Beautiful face!
    ~Anne

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  31. Wow - amazing colours of the goddess. Must be a very cheerful experience.

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  32. Ohhh wow... I was missing being in India for Durga Puja but not anymore. This beautiful picture made my day.

    Wish you a very happy festive season!

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  33. Hi there - wonderful picture.

    Stewart M - Australia

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  34. It sounds a joyous occasion. I love the compassionate expression on the goddess' face.

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  35. Bellissime fotografie!
    Sono felice di conoscerti!

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  36. Nice blog!

    Thanks for the visit.

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  37. Hello Kalyan! Thank you for visiting my blog and your sweet comment! You have beautiful photos on yours!

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  38. Thanks for your visit to my blog and your kind comment. Beautiful image here and in other posts. Diane

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  39. Thanks for the lovely comment.

    The photo of Goddess looks awesome.

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  40. the warmth of being together..i think your culture is generally much warmer when it comes to be together and to celebrate

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  41. Beautifully written..Njoyed reading it...

    http://www.panchamrutham.blogspot.com/

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  42. You words seem very appropriate for this lady.

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  43. Om sri Durgayai namaha!

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  44. Extradinary photos and wonderful collections.Ur blog is simply superb,happy to follow u.Its a great a pleasure and honour for me that such a wonderful blogger visit my tiny blog.

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  45. Maa-ke amar sato pronam,sab bangali bondhudar amar taraf theka sarodiar subhecha.

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