Durga Puja, Celebration and Calcutta

Come to Calcutta in Saratkaal (not really Autumn, but in between the monsoon and the autumn) with the sparkling azure skies with the fluffiest white clouds cruising, a light breeze, and the greenery-turned-white with the gently swaying kash phool

That is the time when Maa Durga comes home.
Come to Bengal when Maa (mother) Durga, the Shakti (power) form of Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife comes to her parents' home (Himalaya and Maneka) with her four children, Ganesha, Saraswati, Laxmi,Kartikeya.

Maa Durga was originally worshipped in Saratkal by Lord Rama in the great Indian epic, Ramayana before he waged war on Ravana, the King of Lanka to free his wife, Sita. It is called as the Akaalbodhan (worshipping in a different time).

Maa Durga (the "invincible") symbolises strength and the triumph over evil. Also known as Mahishasuromordini, Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasur, the asura (demon) in guise of a buffalo (mahish), who was till then undefeated by any man or God.

The Goddess is depicted with ten hands holding ten weapons given to her by the Gods to fight the asura, riding on (baahan) as the lion. On her right stands Laxmi and Ganesha with their respective baahan, the owl and the mouse. On her left stands Saraswati and Kartikeya riding on a swan and a peacock respectively.

Worshipping of Goddess Durga is the celebration of strength, courage, fearlessness and patience. And it is done in Calcutta with style.

Mahalaya is the first new moon in Saratkal, in the month of Ashwin. From then starts the Devipokkha (the time of the Goddess). The pujas (worshipping) start on the MahaShosthi (sixth day after full moon) through MahaSaptami (the seventh day after), MahaAshtami (the eighth day after), MahaNabami (the ninth day after) till MahaDoshomi (the tenth day after), which is also known as MahaBijaya or Dussera. (Maha signifies 'grand')

For us Bengalis and Calcuttans this is the festival of the year. And the longest holiday. In Bengali year 1416 (English 2009) there were over 3000 pujas in Calcutta alone, without even counting the private pujas at homes. Not only the puja itself, Calcutta is famous for its wondrous and innovative  pandals (temporary structures for religious festivals) and the beautiful protimaa (idols) usually made of clay. Kumortuli is famous world-wide for the exquisite clay-idols.

Pandal-hopping is all the rage in here. The city is also completely lighted up for the whole week. No one stays at home, everyone from and outside the city celebrate. The footfall at several pandals crosses lakhs. The pujas are also incomplete without the dhakis and dhunuchhi naach. The dhakis (plays the musical instrument 'dhak') kick up a rythymic beat, the sound of which has one and all dancing (See a video here). Then there are the dhaker lorai, which is the dhak-playing competition usually between two separate pujasDhunuchhi naach is a difficult and exiciting dance with burning dhoona in a vessel in hand (See the videos here and here). There is even a certain smell of the pujas, incense sticks  mingled with the fragnance of flowers and dhoona, the feel of the pujas are in the air.

Pandal hopping in our new clothes, in this festival of happiness, all and any distinctions cease to exist as the city dresses in gaiety and dances in merriment. This is the time for family, and friends, old and new. The city ceased to sleep for the four days.   


Bodhon (the inaugration of the worship) is done on Shosthi, consisting mainly of boron (welcome) of Maa. The pujas are performed by purohits (priests), who are the Hindu Brahmins.

This year people had started going around pandals from Chathurthi (the fourth day after new moon). We started on Panchami (the fifth day after). On MahaShosthi, we had a whole night plan with family and friends. It had rained in the morning but the rains couldn't dampen the spirit of the Festival. We started at 8 PM and got back home at 5:30 in the morning. 


The pujas actually start on this day. Pran Protistha (establishing the spirit in the clay idol) marks the beginning of the puja. It starts with kalabou snan. Kalabou is usually said to be the wife of Ganesha but actually is another form of Goddess Durga. On each day of the puja there is aarati, worshipping the Goddess with fire mainly, and bhog (food that has been offered to the Goddess first) for the people. The four other Gods and Goddesses, Maa Durga's sons and daughters are also worshipped. 
We had another late night on Saptami.


This is the main time (khon) of the pujas This is the day when everbody takes part in pusphanjali (offering of flowers) usually the first thing in the morning, as it is supposed to be done before eating breakfast. We also take charanamrita, which is water mixed with milk, curd mainly, very sweet-tasting, from the feet of the Goddess. Many people also offer pujas in the name of their families, for Maa to bless them.

Also main day of celebration, most people take bhog on this day. We usually wear our best new dresses on this day. Women will be most seen in sarees and the men in panjabi-chosth, if not, dhotis.

On this day, there was less of pandal-hopping and more of adda with friends and family.


MahaNabami starts with sondhi puja (time change from Ashtami to Nabami). This is the final day of the pujas. The puja of Goddess Durga cannot be done without 108 half-bloom lotus. It is said, that Lord Rama had one lotus short while performing the puja, so he tried to cut out his beautiful lotus-shaped eye to offer as the last lotus, when Maa Durga had stopped him.

Several prizes are given out to the best pandals, best protimaa in Calcutta. It rained again but everyone was out with their umbrellas. The whole day was spent looking up those prize-winning pujas, and also spent with old friends.


MahaDashami or MahaBijaya or Dussera is the last day of the pujas, the day on which Lord Rama defeated Ravana. This day is a national holiday and celebrated with joy all over India. 

Bijaya means 'victory'. On this day, mainly the Bengalis touch the feet of their elders for blessings, and everybody eats sweets (mithai) celebrating the Bijaya. Usually we wish each other, "Subho Bijaya", subho meaning 'good'. Also, the married ladies take part in sindoor khela, that is they apply vermilion on each others' faces and foreheads, after applying the same to the Goddess. 

In other parts of India, Dussera is celebrated with delight by the burning of the idol of Ravana. For us, it is a day of mixed feelings for it is the time for bishorjon, that is, the Goddess leaves the idol, and goes back to her husband's home to Kailasa from Earth, symbolised by the immersion of the idol of Maa Durga in the Ganges river. 


The pandals were diverse and the workmanship, awesome- an imaginary temple in the heart of Himalays (Notundal, Behala), a giant mushroom (Shristi-Sahajatri, Behala), pagoda (Lake Town Adhibasi Brindo), Nepal (Tridhara), pandal made out of baskets (Bharat Chakra, Dumdum Park), of banana tree barks (Shibmandir), of dolls (Lalbagan Nabankur) and several other innovative ones were there, like every year. And intricate sculptures are a part of almost every pandal. It is difficult to recognise the city during this time. The pandals were however very difficult to photograph, as without an eagle's eye view, the perspective is lost.

Here are a few glimpses of the Festival in Calcutta 2009.

I am sharing few of the best idols and some pandals that I could manage.

1. Telengabagan in North Calcutta

2. Nalini Sarkar Street, North Calcutta

3. The pandal at Kaashi Bose Lane, North Calcutta, made of glass and mirrors

4. Kaashi Bose Lane, North Calcutta

5. Darponarayan, North Calcutta

6. Pathuriyaghata Paancher Palli, North Calcutta

7. Shobhabajaar, North Calcutta 

8. Ahiritola Sarbojanin, North Calcutta

9. Behala Club, South Calcutta

10. Shristi-Sahajatri, Behala, South Calcutta 

11. Naktala Udoyon Sangha, South Calcutta

12. Near Southern Avenue, South Calcutta 

13. The ceiling of the pandal in Mudiali, South Calcutta

14. Samajsebi, South Calcutta

15. Ballygunge Cultural Association, South Calcutta

15. Santoshpur, South Calcutta 

16. Rajdanga, South Calcutta 

17. Lalbagan, North Calcutta

18. The best protimaa (idol) according to me, Chaltabagan, North Calcutta

19. My famous para-puja (locality puja)... Calcuttans, guess which?

20. Close-up of the same puja

21. Calcutta's finest managing the crowd in Central Avenue. Just a small glimpse. Hats off to them, working 24*7 in this time of celebrations.

22. MahaAshtami morning Pushpanjali (cell-phone camera)

23. The puja on MahaAshtami (cell-phone camera)

24.The puja. Invoking Agni, the God of fire.

25. The puja 

26. The Aarati

Durga Puja is celebrated nowadays not only in Bengal or India but throughout the world. The joy is infectious and the happiness incomparable. These four days, all worries, all sorrows are forgotten as the old and the young alike celebrate the all perseverance of the good. The end of the Festival always brings nostalgia at the days that passed by so swiftly, but also brings hope. And that hope says, Maa will be back next year again... "Aschhe bochhor abar hobe!!!"

N.B. The sources of information are mainly my grandmother, the extensive Bengali dictionary and common knowledge (I asked and clarified with anybody and everybody). Love, G.
An Article by Guria who blogs at Maverick Misfit.

comment 3 comments:

Dhiman on October 15, 2010 at 10:07 PM said...

A very nostalgic post for me that too right in the middle of Durga Puja this year....liked the detailed info ....

Cherry Blossom on October 16, 2010 at 4:09 AM said...

Excellent and detailed report. Loved the presentation. Being far away from Kolkata, especially at this time, but you just captured the moments to bring alive the feel in me. Enjoy the rest of the days. Happy navami.

BK Chowla, on October 16, 2010 at 1:28 PM said...

A very informative post, as I have never celebrated Navratris in Calcutta.
Even in north India, it is a very big celebration.

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