India is a land of festivals, one of which is Durga Puja, which is performed for five days in honour of Goddess Durga during the auspicious period of Navratri and ends on Dussehra. It is one of the most vibrant and lively festivals held in India, especially in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. It’s that time of the year when Kolkata in India is in its full glory. The city is decorated no less than a bride and everyone is awaiting the homecoming of Maa. Durga Puja in Kolkata has always been a larger-than-life affair. The city of Kolkata is immersed in the celebrations and festivities during the last five days of the Navratri, with Durga Puja Pandaals being set up in every part of the city to honour Goddess Durga and mark the victory of good over evil.
According to Indian mythology, Goddess Durga, an embodiment of divine feminine power or ‘Shakti’, emerged to rescue the world from the hands of powerful demon Mahishasura, who was blessed with powers by virtue of which no man or even God could kill him. Mother Goddess Durga, with the combined powers of all the Gods, came to Earth and defeated the demon Mahishasura on the tenth day of the fierce battle, the day came to be known as Dussehra. To mark the celebration of the victory of Mother Goddess Durga over demon Mahishasura, Durga Puja is held from the sixth to the ninth day of Navratri, while the idol is immersed in a water body on the tenth day, i.e., on Dussehra. Beautifully decorated grand pandaals, portraying various unique themes each year are set up in many cities across India, where Goddess Durga and other Gods and Goddesses are worshipped during the Durga Puja days. The aarti of the Goddess is magnetified with the trumpet of dhak and dhunuchi naach.
Bengalis have something to surprise your appetite always, especially with a rich food platter to suit all taste buds during this festival. The long list of Bengali sweets during Durga Puja provides less room for dropout. From the well-known rosogolla, kalakand, kher kadam, sarpuria, patishapta, jol bhora sandesh and raj bhog to contemporary innovations of chocolate sundaes, gur er soufflé is served with pride and vigour. People face difficulty in eliminating options.
The next important part of Durga Puja is Bhog. The customary bhog served on asthami and navami (8th and 9th day of Durga Puja) is no less than any exquisite delicacy. The pandals committee organises events and bhog is distributed to locals after puja in the evenings. Khichudi, labra and chutney (rice risotto, vegetable curry and savoury jam) is provided on a dried leaf plate that adds to its flavour and is something everyone looks forward to. Street food vendors also set up food counters around high footfall areas which are in full swing.
My memory of this festival is when I first visited a pandaal with a Bengali friend back in Delhi. The atmosphere was full of vibrancy, colours and happiness. There were big idols of Durga maa and people around praying as well as enjoying the festival with family.
Here is Melbourne, Australia as well the Bengali Association of Victoria organises events during Durga Puja which cover Puja, cultural show, sumptuous food and lots more.
To sum it up – Durga Puja is actually the celebration of ‘life’ and the joy of ‘living’ more than anything else. It is an expression of the city of Kolkata and all the Bengalis across the world, in the form of the depiction of their great ethnic culture and heritage.
By Archita Baweja