“Pujo ashche” is probably the most powerful couple of words for every Bengali; wait let me correct that, for any person staying in Kolkata (people,seriously,we are not all bengalis -_-). Quite realistically, it marks the oncoming of Durga Puja, the festival every person in Kolkata lives and dies for. It summons the alacrity of a child even from the laziest of beings. It not only represents the traditional, cultural and worship ritual but also the chaotic yet,peaceful and adrenaline-pumping time of one’s whole year. From the 5 marked days of worship (Sashti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami) to the Anjali at the Pandals to the Bhog to the idols to the street lighting to the Pujo feel to infinity (because words don’t even begin to describe the feel), Pujo means everything those few days that Durga Maa is with us.
Celebrated as an epitome of the triumph of good on evil as a result of Maa Durga’s victory over Mahisasur (the buffalo-demon), this festival brings out the soul of the city and even to the least bothered person in Kolkata, this soul showers love, peace and inner joy like no one can and no one will. The belonging to the city, to one’s roots, to the culture heightens during this time. From the Dhunuchi dance at Rajbari to the Dhak to the Bangla rock to the rickshawallas dancing to Tuni, it’s all to be seen.
The preparations for Pujo:
It begins with the building of Pandals weeks before Puja in every Para (small divisions in the locality). Then the ritual of shopping for Durga Puja a few days before Pujo, the streets bustling with people to shop for sarees, jewellery, new decor for homes etc. People shine their houses from scratch. Then comes Amar Maa-er Murti(Goddess Durga’s idol),with Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha on Maa’s right side and Goddess Saraswati and Lord Karthike on the left. This arrangement takes place a couple of days before Pujo just to be on schedule with the faces covered with a piece of paper or cloth. The whole city is decorated with lights, flowers, rangoli etc. Food stalls set up in every lane of the city, from street food to packed food, to cold drinks to special dishes, these stalls provide everything.
Game stalls for the entertainment,for kids and adults (read ‘kids’ during Puja) alike,like rifle shooting (not humans but balloons of course) to loop throw etc. are no scarcer. The whole city symbolises a toddler waiting for it’s Maa. The children run around with cracker bursting guns. Then finally the day marking the beginning comes. The papers over the idols’ faces come off. Maa is ready to meet her children. The whole city comes to life, like an unknown spirit giving the energy, an unseen source of everlasting energy. Pandal hopping (jumping from pandal to pandal) commences. The city seems packed, literally 24×7.
Just enter a pandal to know what I am talking about and to relate to it. When you look at the idol, you can see nothing else. Just feel the serenity around you, the love anyone and everyone is ready to shower on you, the blessings the elders spread throughout. Feel the comfort of the goddess in your proximity. Feel the soul of the city calling out to you, telling you “no matter where you come from, who you are, you belong here, you are our own”. Just live the experience. Smile, cry, just do what you feel like, no one’s going judge you there, in front of your mother.
Now after you feed your soul that love, affection and belongingness, it’s time to feed the stomach. From Puchkas (pani-puri or gol gappa) to chowmein to rolls to chops to ice golas to Chana-Chur to Ghatti Garam to Ghugni to Luchi Aloo-Dum the list goes on. From street food to swimming pool to Varadhan market to Lake District, even the places to eat are endless .All this, and I can still say it’s nothing, because you haven’t eaten the bhog,yet. Khichudi,aloo dum,bhaja,payesh,lungi etc,all this comprise the most heavenly meal one can ask for. Trust me on this. Eat as much as you can, people wouldn’t tire serving, infact the more you eat, the merrier.
After feeding the stomach, feed the eyes and that wanderlust soul. From lighting in areas like Park Street to the pandals of Bagh Bazaar, Sree Bhumi and FD block in Salt Lake to the street decorations in Nagerbazaar and Lake Town. From the decoration of Maa to the traditional red-white saree-clad women.
Finally after all the days of being carefree comes the bitter-sweet symphony of Dhaks signifying its time to say goodbye to the Goddess till next year. To let go of the idol into water. To let Maa take away all pain, all problems, all difficulties and yet bear the pain, the difficulty of letting Maa go. Yet us, Calcuttans fail to show sorrow in this. We happily, with music and dance and Sindur-Khela, bid farewell to her.
We cry, yet we smile.
We weep, yet we shine.
We are hurt and yet we love.
Like nothing can and nothing will.
This is Durga Puja in Kolkata and if you haven’t seen it, i can bet you haven’t experienced half the happiness you can!
It’s not a celebration, it’s the experience of raw happiness, sheer joy, unbridled emotions, it’s the experience of the city with a soul, it’s the experience of Kolkata.
Find yourself in the chaos of love, celebration, and Maa.