With the dawn of Aswin month, a bong’s heart starts beating faster as her/his Ma is coming home. Yes, you heard it correct. Bengalis wait every year in anticipation to welcome Goddess Durga with full pomp and joy. It’s the time of the year when feminine power is celebrated to its greatest extent, the time when good wins over evil, a time to celebrate life and a time to forgive and forget.
Durga Puja is not only about fasting, prayers and performing religious rituals. It’s more than that. It’s about wearing new clothes, hanging out with your near and dear ones, pandal hopping and above all feasting on finger-licking foods right from Biryani to Fish Kobiraji (Fish Fillets) to Dim-r-Devil (Egg Chop), Mughlai to having Bhog after the puspanjali.
It is not only the 10 days that are famous for celebration but even before the puja days, you can feel the excitement in the air in Bengal and the feeling Bengalis go through. Its as if some big exciting event is going to be unravelled in everyone’s life. Bongs prepare for this festival right from the starting of the new year of what to wear, where to go and what to feast on.
You can sense the creativity of the artisans of Kumartuli from the intricate beauty of the idols of Goddess Durga and her children. No two idols have the same face and the best part is they are made of eco-friendly materials (clay and bamboo). The surprising part is obtaining clay from a brothels courtyard as it is considered Punya Matti (blessed soli) depicting respects for the prostitutes irrespective of their profession. Preparation of the idols starts long way back, except their eyes are drawn on ‘Mahalaya’ ( one day before the festival commences). Drawing of Devi’s(Goddess) eye is referred to as ‘Chokkhu Daan’, done by the senior member of the artisans family in early morning marking the descending of Goddess Durga on earth. To observe this unique ritual you can Visit Kumortuli in North Kolkata.
Most people get dressed and keep fast in Asthami and visit local pandals to offer their prayers to Ma Durga in form of Asthami Puspanjanli, the most auspicious ritual. It is followed by Asthami Bhog comprisng of khichuri, mixed vegetable, papad, chutney payesh and obviously rosogulla.
An interesting ritual is offering 108 lotuses to the Goddess along with lightning 108 diyas to mark the end of Asthami and the beginning of Navami. The last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami is celebrated with the bated breath and is regarded as the Sandhikhan when Goddess Durga is worshipped in the form of Ma Chamunda.
To feel the pulse of the festival you need to walk down the lanes of the Kolkata. The city echoes with the sound of conch shells and dhaks. The feeling is divine when you hear and watch dhakis play in a pandal and women and men performing on its rhythm referred to as Dhunuchi Naach(traditional Durga Puja Dance). Dancers take two or even three dhunuchi’s and dance in the honour of Durga Ma creating a spiritual ambiance with aromatic white fumes and feverish dhaak rolls giving you goosebumps.
Bengali married ladies play with Sindoor (Vermillion) at the 10th day of Durga Puja bidding farewell to Ma Durga. They apply sindoor to Durga Ma, treating her as their daughter who is leaving for her husband’s house. It’s a colorful way to mark the end of the 10 day festivities.
Bisarjan is the most painful part for any Bengali as it marks the end of the 10-day festival with a hope “Asche bochor abar hobe” (Will happen next year again; the mantra people chant during the procession).
Durga Puja is celebrating life at its best. It reflects the richness of Indian culture and mere words cannot describe the beauty and grandeur of the festival. You need to have real-life experience to understand the emotion of Durga Puja. So the next time you plan to visit Kolkata make sure you do that during Sept-Oct to feel the essence and sentiment of Durga Puja and to enjoy India’s biggest festival.
Staying away from Kolkata during Durga Puja is one of the toughest things for a Bengali. And here I am away from the celebration, missing the excitement and writing about Durga Puja to make myself feel better and connected with the charisma and grandeur of the celebration.