Sunday, September 23, 2012


Dear Readers,

Victory of good over evil is the one theme that features in most of our festivals. But, this idea is expressed in its most clearest form only during the festival of Dussera. The 10 day festival signifying the 10 days that the Goddess took to fight and slay the demon Mahishasura, is the most eloberate celeberation of the victory of good over evil. The culmination of the festival is on the 10th day when the demon Mahishasura was slayed by Goddess Durga, thus defeating evil and protecting the good.

The festival of Dussera starts from 16th October 2012.

There is no other place to experience the grandeur of Durga-Puja than in Kolkata. It can be said that what Ganesh Chaturthi is for the city for Mumbai, so is Durga-Puja or Pujo for Kolkata. And as they say, there is no seperating a Bengali from his fish and there is no seperating Kolkata from Pujo.

In fact, according to one widely held opinion, the city gets its name from Kalikata which is a corrupted form of the word Kali-Kshetra, which means “Place of Kali”. Such is the association of the city with its goddess and passionate celeberation of the festival by its people only reflects this fact.

The celeberations start on the day of Mahalaya which generally falls during September-October and ends with Bijoya (Vijaya)- Dashami on the 10th day from Mahalaya. During these 10 days the Goddess is invoked in her various forms. For the native Bengali, the day starts with the rendition of Mahishamardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, which is broadcast on the All India Radio every morning during the festival days. You can find an MP3 version of the song here. This is followed by completing all the morning chores and ritualistic puja for the Devi Maa. Here is a nice writeup of the celeberations of Durga-Puja.

On the day of MahaShashti which is the 6th day from Mahalaya, grand idols are erected in almost every locality in Kolkata and this marks the begining of Sarbojanin (public) Durga Puja which lasts for the next four days. It is the evenings which are more colourful and energetic. People go to visit various Pandals or stages where the Sarbojanin Durgotsav is organised. The pandals themselves are majestic constructions which are the outcome of generous donations collected by the organisers from the general public. Each pandal vies with the others for popularity and their eloberate constructions and artistic work are testimony to the healthy competition between the organisers and the passion of the Bengali public. The people visit various pandals during the 5 days of the festival starting from MahaShashti to BijoyaDashami and spend their time outdoors well into the midnight. Pandal-hopping is the favourite pastime of the Bengalis during Durga-Puja and there is enough on the palette for the next 4 days. On the 10th day of the festival of VijayaDashami, also known as Bijoya, a grand farewell is given to Maa Durga and the idols of the Goddess are immersed in nearby lakes and the river Ganga. The ritual is known as Bishorjon.

History of Pujo :

Following is just one of the many opinions about the origins of the Sarbojanin Durgosav.

The first eloberate Durga-Puja is supposed to have been arranged at Shovabazar Rajbari in the year 1757 by the then Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb Bahadur in his palace. It was a private affair which was attended by affluent Bengali families and people from the then British raj. More details can be found here.

Soon the practice spread and many other rich and princely Bengali families began to organise Durga-Pujas, but they were still largely private affairs. Around the 1920s groups of people began to organise Durga-Puja for the general public where anyone could come and participate and pay their obseince to the Mother Goddess. These are known as the Sarbojanin Durga-Pujas. The Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsav and Exhibition is one of the oldest of such celeberations which traces its origins from the year 1919. You can find more information here and here

Presently the practice of organising Sarbojanin Durgotsav has spread to such an extent that you will find thousands of Durgotsavs in Kolkata alone. The celeberations elsewhere in West Bengal and among the Bengali Diaspora throughout the world too are popular.

Kumartuli : The Artisans' Village

As the popularity of the Durgotsav increased, the fame of the idol makers of Kumortuli also increased. It is from the area of Kumortuli, that the idols which adorn the various pandals come from. So popular are the idols that nowadays there is an increased demand of idols made by the Kumortuli artisans elsewhere in India and even abroad. The preparation of the idols starts on the day of the Rath Yatra of Puri. Clay from the Ganga river is brought and the idol preparation starts. The preparation is completed on the day of the Mahalaya with the ritualistic painting of the eyes of the Goddess, called Chokku-Daan. You can find a photostream of the making of the idols in Kumortuli here. A short note on the idol makers of Kumortuli can be found here.

You can watch a short video of a typical process of making the idol here
Travel Tips :
So if you plan to visit Kolkata during Durga-Puja then it is the evenings and nights that you have to watch out for. Start at twilight and hop, hop, hop till you drop. Take it for granted that Kolkata, which truly transforms into the “City of Joy”, will not let you get bored for the 5 days starting from Mahashashti to Bijoya. The pandals themselves are majestic and beautiful constructions which will leave you amazed and the various public performances and drama enactments at many of the pandals are enthralling still. Here is a list of some of the pandals which are sure to leave you speechless.
Better still, you can visit Kumortuli and get a real-life glimpse into the world of the artisans.
View Larger Map
You can take a guided walking-tour into Kumartoli area by registering on this site.
There is no festival without its special cuisine and Bengali cuisine needs no new introduction. 
You can find recipes for some special dishes for Pujo here and here.
Dussera is a festival which is celeberated throughout India in different ways. In this post we have had a glimpse into the celeberations of Durga-Puja in Kolkata. Wait for future posts to know about celeberation in different parts of India. Till then lets welcome Maa Durga with the well known slogan “Jai Kali Kalkatte Wali”. Bye!!
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