What to expect when visiting Kolkata during Durga Puja

Every year, West Bengal opens its arms for many visitors all around the world during its annual festival of Durga Puja, also called as Durgotsav or simply Puja, a festival that reveres the goddess Durga. This festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga in the battle with the deceptive and powerful demon Mahishasura.

Thus, the festival epitomizes the victory of good over evil. Thinking about the festive time gives me a childlike happiness and all the memories from my childhood come floating in. Every Bengali looks forward to these 10 days of festivities and rushes to meet their near and dear ones in West Bengal.

People from all around India, come to Kolkata during Durga Puja in trains, flights and every other means of transport available. Special trains are allotted solely for this purpose. But if you are planing to come by flight, then you have to book your tickets beforehand to avoid the price hike later.

Durga Idol in Kumartuli
An unfinished Durga Idol in Kumartuli

Durga Puja from Mythology

According to Hindu Mythology, Durga Puja is celebrated in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September to October) to commemorate God Ram’s prayers to the goddess Durga before going to war with the demon king Ravana. He first worshiped goddess Durga by offering 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps, at this time of the year.

Lord Shiva has come to the Airport to drop Goddess Durga. He says “You are going to your father’s house, please do not make any strong political comments out of aggression or it would be difficult to get Visa for the next year!”
Lord Shiva has come to the Airport to drop Goddess Durga. He says “You are going to your father’s house, please do not make any strong political comments out of aggression or it would be difficult to get Visa for the next year!” | Cartoon by Aniket Mitra

The popular belief is that Goddess Durga visits her parent’s house, along with her four children ‘Ganesha’, ‘Karthik’ ‘Lakshmi’ and ‘Saraswati’ while Lord Shiva stays back at Kailash. This is like all of us visiting our maternal families during summer vacations. This is why we Bengalis feast and not fast like non-Bengalis in Navratri. We celebrate the home coming of Goddess Durga with meat and fish.

What to expect if you are travelling to Kolkata for Durga Puja for the very first time?

My husband and I keep inviting our friends to join us during the festival of Durga Puja in our hometown of Kolkata because we feel everybody should be able to enjoy the festivities. The joy of getting together for a fun-filled 10 days is unbelievable until you have experienced it for yourself.

Fun & Festivities

The festivities begins with Mahalaya, seven days before the Durga Puja and it heralds the advent of Durga. From our childhood day, we get up as early as 4 am in the morning to hear the radio version of ‘Mahishasur Mardini’ on the day of Mahalaya.

2019 Durga idol imagined with Buddhist look at Kolkata
2019 Durga idol imagined with Buddhist look.

On entering the city, you can instantly feel the change in the atmosphere. If any smell can be associated with this feeling, your heart will be fill with it. All around you, people will be busy finishing the pandals or rushing to complete their Puja shopping.

Keeping in line with old traditions, kids in a household get new clothes for each day of the festival.

Innovative Pandal Themes

Lately, Durga Puja, has earned the epithet of ‘Theme Puja’ with different clubs coming up with different themes to work on. Every year, the puja organizers try to awe the visitors with innovative ideas in the making of the puja pandals [Large open-sided temporary pavilions].

The unique themes and arts don’t only aim to be distinctive but also try to deliver meaningful messages. However, social issues are gradually emerging as a central theme. Besides experimenting with themes, puja organizers are also exploring new techniques in creating the idols.

In order to allure crowds in large numbers puja organizers bring in celebrities to inaugurate pandals or simply to perform.

Late Night Street Foods

In these 10 days, you will see people of all ages, pandal-hopping in odd hours all throughout the day. Teenagers kind of get an unspoken permission to roam around with their friends, eating whatever they liked whenever they liked.

I myself enjoy having Phuchkas in between pandal-hopping, cherishing each bites as if I am storing the memory of their taste in my heart for future.

Bidding Goodbye

On last day, we 'Boron' Goddess Durga and play Sindoor khela
On last day, we ‘Boron’ Goddess Durga and play Sindoor khela

This year is special for me as I recently got married and I can take part in the Sindoor Khela on Vijaydashami as it is meant only for married women.

Every year, with heavy hearts we bid good bye to goddess Durga by saying “Asche Bochor Abar Esho Maa”. This means, please come back to us again next year. We are happy and melancholy at the same time.

Goddess Durga Idol Immersion
Goddess Durga Idol Immersion (DiptenduDutta/Getty Images)

I would say Durga Puja is the best time to visit to Kolkata. You can catch more glimpse of Kolkata in Prax Basu’s work in his Facebook page.

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What to expect when visiting Kolkata during Durga Puja
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