“Maa aasche”- An emotion every Bengali feels and identifies themselves with all over the world.What is this festival and how do we make the most of it? Durga Puja Festival-Everything you need to know to have a good time is put down here. It is a feeling and a festival every person who has ever stayed in Kolkata even for a year celebrates. Durga Puja or worshipping of the Goddess Maa Durga is a festival of its kind, celebrated with an enthusiasm which would be difficult for the best of bloggers to put in words. But here I am as a tribute to my home town Kolkata and my partners Bengali family and all my Bengali friends I am trying to write and celebrate this event.
Durga puja is believed to have started in the late 1500s by landlords or Zamindars. The Rajbari pujas celebrated still is very famous and have the initial traditional style. The origin of the community puja can be credited to the twelve friends of Guptipara in Hooghly, West Bengal, who collaborated and collected contributions from local residents to conduct the first community puja called the ‘baro-yaari’ puja, or the ‘twelve-pal’ puja, in 1790.
The huge temporary canopies–held by a framework of bamboo poles and draped with colourful fabric –that house the icons are called ‘pandals’. Modern pandals are innovative, artistic and decorative at the same time, offering a visual spectacle for the numerous visitors who go ‘pandal-hopping’ during the four days of Durga Puja.
The Durga pujo that we observe at this time of the year is called Akalbodhan (the untimely puja). Ramchadra had done Durga aradhana in autumn before he went on to kill ravan.
In a bengali family Durga maa is considered as the daughter of th house.. you will hear many fathers who refer to their daughters as Maa affectionately.So real sentiment or essence of Durga Pujo is when Maa or the daughter of the house comes to her maternal home with her children to.enjoy and make.merry … So in bengal it is celebrated with lots of food ( mostly non veg , yes we EAT NON VEG during pujo ), fun ,family get togethers, adda ( chit chat session) ,music , laughter and dance. All the possible things that one could imagine doing to make the daughter (maa durga) happy when she pays her yearly visit is arranged and done . This is one festival where in the literal sense there is hardly any flavour of religion .. it is more about the INCLUSIVENESS… People across class , creed religion in Kolkata enjoy it the same degree of excitement .
Let us start with the dates for this year -2018.
The puja starts with Mahalaya, which is a festival where Goddess Durga is invited to Mother Earth. The artisans paint the eye, the most prominent feature of the idols on this day. In 2018 Mahalaya is on October 8th. It marks the start Puja festivities. Generally, all the people wake up at 4:00 AM and listen to Mahalaya song written by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. It is believed this was the day when the Goddess killed the asuras (demons).
The main celebrations used to start from sixth day of the Pujas or Shashti (October 15, 2018). This is believed to be the day when Maa Durga comes down from heaven to Mother earth along with her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Ganesh.However nowadays because of the excitement, the Puja festivals even start from the fourth day itself when the artistic pandal come alive and the colourful handcrafted idols are unveiled.
Even before the Puja festivities begin:
The making of the idols:
One of the biggest highlights many days prior to the pujas is the idol creation. It happens in Northern Kolkata in a place called Kumartoli. Small little lanes filled with partially made clay idols of Durga, her other children and the asuras (demons). They are beautiful to look at and if you visit this place and meet the artisans you would understand how much effort and love these people put in the creation of a beautiful idol which people are going to pray to and idolize for the ten days of the celebration. The creation of the sculptures begins months before the festival, and the entire process carries with it great ceremony.Early morning hours to visit the place is best as you can avoid the road congestions and meet the artisans. It goes without saying that you would have a lot of photo opportunities.
Traditional clay image of Durga, or pratima, made of clay with all five gods and goddesses under one structure is known as ‘ek-chala’ (‘ek’ = one, ‘chala’ = cover).
The different kind of decorations for Idols.
There are two kinds of embellishments that are used on clay–sholar saaj and daker saaj. In the former, the pratima is traditionally decorated with the white core of the shola reed which grows within marshlands. As the devotees grew wealthier, beaten silver (rangta) was used. The silver used to be imported from Germany and was delivered by post (dak). Hence the name daker saaj. The soil and clay used for the creation of these sculptures are selected from regions far and wide and there is an actual ritual behind it as well. Also the making begins with the prayers to Lord Ganesha. The first step it to create the framework which is done by creating the base level. This base level consists of clay mixed with straw and applied over a framework of bamboo which is heated to harden it. Over this the clay sculptures are created. The idols are hand -painted and dressed with fine clothes and jewellery.
Making of different kinds of Pandals:
Different pandals have different themes and the idols are created keeping the themes in the mind. Some idols are created completely blue or gold in colour; some are created in old classic style. It all depends on the themes for which the idols are prepared. The artisans put painstaking details and each one is more unique than the other. Biodegradable paints and materials are used as the idols are immersed in the rivers after the ten days of festival marking the end of the festival.
First times in Kolkata for the Durga Puja:
If it is your first time in Kolkata to see the festivities, the crowds and the traffic and the roads could be overwhelming, so the easiest way to slowly get into the mood is to do the tours provides by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. The tours are called Calcutta Photo Tours, Calcutta Walks, Walks of Kolkata and Let’s Meet Up Tours. Also there are some tram (special to Kolkata) which you can take, however this could be time consuming and the pandals pujas seen limited. This is offered by the Calcutta Tram company.
Tips for making most of the Celebrations-especially for the first timers.
#There is some strategic planning required for Pandal hopping and here is what we are trying to help you with.The most famous pandals can be divides into two major sets, South Pujo and North Pujo and they should be planned different days.
#The best time to do Pandal hopping are the late nights where the light is still on and the crowd a little controllable, or the early mornings around dusk.
#Try and visit a Raj Bari or the affluent landlords (Zamindars) Pujas. They are spread across Kolkata and two famous ones are Sovabazar Raj Bari and Rani Rashmoni Bari. There are tours for these as well.
#Attend an aarti in which the dhaks (drums) are played. You will fall in love with this hour of the Puja celebration where there are lighted diyas and a purohit (Preist) worshipping the Idols and dhak people playing dhaks. You get goosebumps listening to them and this is the sound I have woken up to many times as a kid. It is generally played twice, one in the early morning and secondly during the evening.
#Do try and be present in two big Ceremonies: Anjali and Kumari Puja on Ashtami (Eigth day of the Pujas)
#On Ashtami there is a ritual called Kumari Puja where a young girl is dressed and Durga and worshipped. Belur Math has big festivals for the same.
#Also another ritual is giving anjali to the Goddess where people are fasting and come to give Anjali to their local pandals to take blessings. This day is generally no-meat or a vegetarian day for hard-core meat lover Bengalis. Every person is beautifully dressed in their newest clothes, to the underwear and goes hungry to get the blessings of the Goddess.
#One more celebration which you should attend and witness is sindoor-Khela which is generally celebrated by the married women of Bengal. They celebrate marriage and put sindoor (red powder, which married women wear traditionally) on the idols and on each other. You would find women dressed in the traditional Bengali saree, the red border white/cream saree and enjoy this ritual. This happens on Dashami (Tenth Day)
#On the last day.. Dashami, when it’s time for Maa to leave and go back to Kailash to her husband, there is a huge sense of sadness in the air .. It’s time for vidaai. Every married women come together to bid her good bye and perform the boron ( goodbye ritual). The boron ritual is quite interesting _ the women prepare a thali with sindoor, sweets , couple of paan leaves and diya.. WITH the light of diya first maa’s face is looked at with all the love and pining.. (after all it’s the feeling when u won’t get to see your daughter for one full year ), then the sindoor is applied on maa’s head and loha ( it’s an iron bangle that every married bengali woman wear .. it’s the sign of being married), then with the paan leaves her face is beautifully caressed with lots of love and then literally sweets is being fed to maa’s idol .. which we refer to as mishti mukh.. I guess all over india this concept of mu mithai is there for welcoming people and bidding goodbye and we follow that for our Maa who is our daughter ,as well.In the end we all play holi with sindoor . After the immersion takes place it time for Bijoya.. everyone at home would seek blessing from the elders by touching their feet and again do mu mithai.. friends hug each other thrice and do mu mithai.. and then the wait for the next year starts .. ” Aschhe bochhor abar hobe “
#The immersion of the idols is one more event which you would love to visit. People go crazy and the streets get jam packed. There is music and dance and lots of display of emotions. One of the most popular immersion points is Babu Ghat (centrally located near Eden Garden), although you’ll be able to catch the action at any of the ghats along the river. An excellent way of seeing it is by boat. West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation operates special immersion boat cruises down the river.
#Dress, Eat and Adda and Repeat: These days are the best days, to actually enjoy life and friendship. Dress up in your best of clothes, new clothes, new looks, a new haircut etc. Eat a lot of the Bengali delicacies like sweets, Biryani, Fish and mutton dishes and lots of different stuff. Sit and talk all the day long with friends and do an adda, in either your houses, coffee shops, restaurants, while pandal hopping- Just adda. And then get ready to do the same stuff the next day.
A plan for the South Kolkata Pandal Hopping:
As I have stayed in South Kolkata and remember bits and pieces of it, I would try out a rough plan to give you an idea of how to plan your pandal hopping:
Starting Point: Start from the Durga puja pandal at the Bosepukur Sitala Mandir. It has won many prizes for its innovation as well.
Second Stop: Bosepukur TalBagan is another beautiful pandal which is very close and should be visited next.
Third point:Take an auto or walk down ( a little longish walk) to Gariahat Crossing and see the two famous pandal here: Singhi Park and Ekdalia.
Fourth Stop: There is the hindustan Park puja just 5-7 mins walk from here. There would be many small pujas and pandals you would see onthe way and will enjoy the feel.
Fifth Stop: One could go left from the gariahat crossing , to see the Pandal of Babubagan and Jodhpur park. It might not be walking distance, and an auto should do. You might have to be stuck in traffic for some time.
Sixth Point:Come to Southern Avenue from Jodhpur park to see the Shib Mandir Pandal, Ballygunge Cultural and Tridhara. Some beautiful Pandals and great vibes on this side.
Seventh Stop:Go to Rashbehari avenue, a quick auto ride away and visit 66 pally and badamtala (5 mins walking distance from each other).
Eighth ot last stop: From here one can go to Chetla and see the Chetla Agrani Club and via durgapur bridge see Suruchi Sangha. Againa both amazing puja.
For your upcoming Puja shopping visit
If you are visiting Kolkaa for the first time and need to book your hotels, look no further.