The heart of a Bong (Bengali residing across the globe) thumps faster in anticipation of the homecoming of Goddess Durga – that is Durga Puja. Durgotsav, a festival of the eastern part of India is celebrated during September-October (the dates vary each year as per the Hindu Lunar calendar), wherein the Goddess Durga is worshipped with full devotion by performing religious rituals. The pompous celebration of Durga Puja in Kolkata can be traced back to the early 1700s when Bengal’s zamindars outdid each other in displaying their influence, power, and wealth by spending large sums of money on the festivities. The magnitude of the celebrations in the city of Kolkata, cannot be even compared to the few renowned international celebrations like Rio Carnival in Brazil, the La Tomatina Festival in Spain, or Christmas Celebrations in New York.
Durga Puja, Navratri, or Dussehra celebration spans for 10 days across the country from Northern till Southern India under various religious names. It is a celebration of divine feminine power and victory over the evil demon “Mahishasura”. who had the blessings not to be defeated by any man or God. The final day of the celebration is called VIJAYADASHAMI(meaning victory on the 10th day). The grandeur of this celebration can be experienced with the Bengalis in Kolkata usually between September and October.
The simple village in the 17th century, Kolkata today is one of the largest cities in the world, and also one of the major ports in the Eastern part of India. Kolkata (earlier known as Calcutta), once India’s capital under the British Raj from 1773-1911, was founded as an East India Company trading post is now known for its art galleries, colonial architecture, and cultural festivals. It’s also home to Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa.
Few highlights of the city are – Eden Garden, Dalhousie square, or BBD Bagh are located in the heart of the city. The historical buildings like the Raj Bhavan, the Assembly House, and Calcutta High Court (1872) are on the southern side. The imposing General Post Office beside which is the tall building of the Reserve Bank of India, Writers building, Marble Palace (story of Babu Culture)–the ‘Palace’ is in Chor Bagan are all examples of colonial architecture and definitely worth the visit. Epiconic Travel has expert local guides to showcase the best of Kolkata, especially during this amazing Durga Puja festival.
The city also has an abundance of culture – the Flower market, the walk across the Howrah bridge till the boat jetty for a local boat ride on the Hoogly River with regular passengers to experience the life of the common people of the city. The walk inside the residential potters’ block of Kumartuli and interact with the clay modelers engaged in making the religious icons, for all sorts of Hindu festivals. The Belur Math (1938), across the river Ganga, is unique which represents a Church, a Mosque and a Temple and the international headquarter of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Durga Puja is full of rituals and customs with different significance each day. The celebrations begin several months in advance which includes shopping for multiple set of new clothes. The Bongs spend significantly on their dresses and also for the planning and preparing for the rituals. The air of the city of Kolkata is absolutely thick with a feeling of the unraveling of something extremely huge – it is like reaching the peak of a much-awaited climax. The idols are prepared several months in advance before the celebration except for the eyes – only drawn(the process is called ‘Chokkhu Daan’ – the Goddess being invited to earth) on Mahalaya – one day before the beginning of the ten day celebrations. Kumartuli, the bustling potter’s locality in North Calcutta is the place where all idols are made from the clay of the Holy River Ganges. The five day festivities besides rituals also include singing, dancing, fasting followed by feasts, glimpses of elaborately decorated pandals(a temporary set up made during the puja), and culminates with the immersion of the idol in the water. People walk miles to see the decors of the pandals as they are in different themes or have some attractions. There are competitions as well. Generally, Bongs are big-time food lovers – but before that they are religious. During this festivity, it is both fasting and feasting. All celebrations or good things do come to an end and on the last day, the Goddess Durga is traditionally given a sendoff by playing with Sindoor Khela (play with Vermilion).
Durga Puja reflects the richness and the depth of Indian culture. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE – the stunning display of creativity and art in the form of innovative themed pandals and idols is exemplary and it is very difficult to pin down the grandeur of experiencing Durga Puja in words.
Few interesting hotels re-commended by Epiconic Travel in Kolkata are – The Oberoi Grand, Calcutta Bungalow, The Glenburn Penthouse, ITC Sonar Bangla, The Lalit, The Elgin Fairlawn, The Park Kolkata, Hyatt Regency, Peerless Inn.