Kolkata can be overwhelming and chaotic at times. Regardless, the city comes at you with full vigour all at once and is always all hearts. Given that the city of joy attracts thousands of new residents every year, here’s something that will help first-timers in the city celebrate Durga Pujo.
Some say you either love this city or hate it, there’s no midway. The humid weather for the majority of the year, uncontrolled traffic, streets bustling with some of the best street food in India, intense intellectualism hanging heavy in the air (and in the street-side tea stalls), and a British hangover wrapped in the modern-era development — all this not even comes close to describing the emotion that this city is.
It is during its prime festival Durga Pujo every year that Kolkata puts its best foot forward with an enthusiasm that is par ordinary even for us Indians with all our festive vigour. This year, it is slated for October 11 to October 15. The dhaak, dhol, dhunuchi of Durgo Pujo in Kolkata, West Bengal is an intangible treasure to the city and the state that encapsulates the spirit of the City of Joy, which sees five days of complete shutdown of all offices, schools, and colleges. It is a celebration of the city’s effervescent and inimitable spirit put on proud display for everyone to witness, experience, and fall in love with. Every nook and corner of the city, every road, every street, even the houses are such adorned that it is impossible not to feel yourself getting absorbed into the energy this city exudes during Durga Pujo.
The streets of Kolkata are lined with the best of street food that the city has to offer while the mishti (sweets) and bhog (offering to the deities) are served all day, every day of the celebration. It is not without reason that Kolkata’s Durga Pujo is officially nominated for UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage status.
Let’s break the four main days of festivities down for you so that you can keep up with what’s happening at the pandals of Kolkata
Although from a religious and ritualistic perspective the pujo starts from Ekadashi or the first day of the 10-day-long festivities it is from saptami (the seventh day) that Calcuttans commence their tireless pandal hopping, navigating through the longest of queues and the most overwhelming of crowds. It is not without a reason that it is the best time to visit Kolkata for this is when you get to witness the invincible spirit of the City of Joy.
On ashtami, women in white and red saris and men in dhuti-Panjabi (a typical Bengali menswear outfit) come together with families in their respective neighbourhood pujos for the auspicious ashtami anjali. Right from the morning, elders of the family fast till the anjali (prayers) is offered to Durga Maa, followed by an elaborate bhog. The dhunuchi naach goes on for hours where everybody is welcomed to participate, no matter how poor the dancing skills.
However, it is on the ninth day, or navami, that the most delicious bhog is served in every pujo pandal and bonedi bari across Kolkata and West Bengal. Everyone is served a generous serving of khichudi, labda, payesh, chutney, and papad on shaal pata (oak leaf plates) indiscriminately. No matter which religion you belong to or which part of the world you come from, during Durga Pujo, all you really need to enjoy it with every Bengali, in Kolkata and abroad, is the willingness to do so.
On dashami (tenth day), the concluding day of what is an emotional week full of laughter, joy, food, festivities, unity, celebration, dancing, singing, rituals, functions, and everything that binds the community together, a gloom of sadness mixed with an anticipation for the coming year lingers throughout the city. In what is unarguably one of the most striking, colourful, and theatrical rituals in the whole country, the sindur daan (putting vermillion) is performed only by married women while children and men seek blessings from Durga Maa and her children. Dashami is when women adorn themselves, each other, and Maa Durga with vermillion as a symbol of female energy that is the soul of Durga Pujo. The idols are all taken to Babughat, on the banks of the Hooghly, from all over the city, with a celebratory procession and anticipation of another year’s wait already setting in deep amongst the people.
No matter what you pack for this trip to Kolkata during Durga Pujo, a white sari with red border for the ladies and a good old dhuti-panjabi for the gents is a must. After all, Kahaani’s Vidya got the memo, and so should you!
This story first appeared on TravelandLeisure India.