Durga Puja is the biggest festival in Bengal. This is also
known as Dussehra and Navaratri in other parts of
India. Durga is the Goddess of divine power against all
evils. The story goes that Mahisasur, the
Buffalo Demon, through years of praying, received blessing from Lord
Brahma, that no power can kill him which means he is invincible.
But once gaining this power he started ravaging the whole world
and killing people. And finally he wanted to uproot the Gods
too. The Gods,
in dismay, combined their powers to create a beautiful maiden,
and each placed his or her most potent weapon in one of her ten
hands riding a lion.
Her return in each year in the Bengali month of Aswin
(September-October) commemorates Rama's invocation of the
goddess Durga before he went into battle with Ravana. The traditional image of the Bengali Durga follows the
iconographic injunctions of the Shastras. It is similar to the
Durga of Aihole and of Mahabalipuram (seventh century). The
tableau of Durga with her four children - Kartik, Ganesh,
Saraswati and Lakshmi, representing respectively the
Protector, the Initiator of the puja, Knowledge and the Provider
- signifies the complete manifestation of the goddess.
In some cases, the images are
made as separate pieces.
Another legend has it that Lord Rama went to rescue his abducted
wife Sita from the grip of Ravana, the king of the demons in
Lanka. Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Rama wanted
the blessings of Devi Durga. Pleased with Rama’s
devotion, Durga appeared before him and blessed him. The battle
started on the saptami and Ravana was finally killed on
the sandhikshan i.e. the crossover period between ashtami
and navami and was cremated on dashami. Since the
period of this worship was different from the conventional
festival time of spring or basant, this puja is also known as
akal-bodhan or worship (bodhan) in an unconventional time
Interior decoration of a
pandal. It is tough to believe that these intricate designs are built
to stay only for a week.
Every pandal is unique in
patterns which makes it worth walking miles after miles to watch
these innovative designs.
Festival preparations begin a month or two in advance. Employees
of different Govt. and private organizations get extra money as
Puja bonus to enjoy the festival. If not, then processions and posters
press the demand for Puja bonus, as the bread-winner has to meet
many demands for new clothes and furbishing for the home.
Businesses have special advertisement campaigns before Puja and
stock themselves with special products. Pre-Puja
bargain sales and exhibitions introduce the sartorial style for
the coming year. Bengali newspapers and magazines publish
special issues "Sharad Sankhya" - the platform for many
budding author, besides the works by well-known
writers. Music companies have a number of new discs and
cassettes published in every Puja and the music lovers await
eagerly for the new releases.
The festival starts with Mahalaya, the first phase of
the waxing moon in Aswin. Thousands offer prayers to their
ancestors at the city's river banks (ghats), a ritual called Tarpan.
pre-dawn program of readings from the Chandi and Aagamani
songs welcoming the goddess are relayed by All-India Radio. This
traditional program, conceived by Birendrakrishna Bhadra, has
become an institution: a chorus of protests led to its
restoration after a change was attempted one year.
One pandal in North Calcutta from
Another one in South Calcutta.
The festive mood builds up as Dhakis (drummers)
from the countryside starts gathering near the city. They beat
feathered drums to attract the attention of local Puja
organizers. The first recorded Durga Puja seems to have taken
place in Nadia district in or around 1606. In those days it was
more of a family festival for the rich or landlords. The oldest
Puja in Calcutta, as some believes, was used to be the family
Puja of Sabarna Chaudhury of Barisha which dates back to 1610.
The first publicly organized puja happened in Guptipara of Hoogli
district when twelve men were stopped from taking part in a
household puja. They formed a twelve man committee and held a
puja. Since then these kind of puja arrangement is known as barowari
( baro - twelve, yar- friend). Later the term 'barowari'
was replaced by 'sarbojonin' ( for all men and women).
The first community puja in Calcutta was held at Balaram Bose
Ghat Road in 1910.
The construction of images start months back. Kumartuli, a place
in north Calcutta, is famous as a place for expert artisans who
uses clay modeling to build the images of Durga, Mahisasur,
Kartick, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi. This is a wonderful form
of art and part of a deep rooted culture. In the recent years,
eminent personalities from the painting and sculpture world also
did lots of creative work on Durga images. Another group of people starts
building a pandal ( a covered huge stage ) with paper, wood,
bamboos, clothes and other materials. They come up with beautiful structures , most
of the times they are so beautiful and real that, it tough to
believe that these are made for only couple of days or a week.
Some constructions are built as replica of world famous
The inauguration starts on Mahashasthi. The main puja is for
three days - Mahasaptami, Mahaastami, Mahanavami. The puja
rituals are long and very detailed and complicated. Three days
of Mantras and Shlokas and Arati and offerings - needs an expert
priest to do this kind of Puja. Because of these facts, the
number of Pujas held in the family has reduced and Durga Puja
has mostly emerged as a community festival. The city of Calcutta
takes a different look during these three days, specially at
night. Millions of people come to the city and line up before
the pandals. The streets are lighted and the electricians
display all different kind of light shows. The restaurants
are packed and numerous temporary food stalls are opened though
out the city. Special trains, buses are available; underground metro
rail runs beyond regular schedule. People from suburban areas come
into the city and roam around through out the
Schools, colleges, offices remain closed
during these four days. Some people use the holidays to go out
for sight seeing and travel. Trains to tourists spots get
reserved months before puja. Bengalis in other cities in India
visit their relatives in West Bengal.
Farewell to the Durga divine
family. A procession before immersion.
Photo: Indrajit Das
After the three days of Puja, in Dashami , in
the last day, a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. Most
of the community pujas postpone the farewell as long as possible
and arrange a grand send-off. The images are carried in
processions around the locality and finally is immersed in a nearby
river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated
all over the country.
Bengalis all over the world tries to celebrate this great event
of their culture. Images made out of 'shola' (light
material) are flown to
countries abroad and the NRI Bengalis and Indians arrange puja
in foreign lands. In most of the overseas pujas, the event
becomes a meeting place for local Bengalis and Indians. Usually
people perform in some cultural activities.
To put in simple, the Durga Puja, the
greatest show of Calcutta has been preserved honourably.
- An article on Durga Puja
titled "Durga Puja in Calcutta" by Jaya Chaliha
and Bunny Gupta from the book "Calcutta The Living City
- Volume II - The Present and Future" ( edited by
Sukanta Chaudhuri ) from Oxford University Press.
- News paper articles : The
Statesman, The Telegraph
- Timir Ganguly's web site
- Calcuttaweb.com and