While whole India celebrates Navratri, eats veg and has dandiya and garba nights, one particular city duels in dhunuchi naach, pandal hopping, dhaak beats and utterly delicious non veg food. Yes I am talking about Kolkata’s Durga Pujo. The saga that jump starts at 4 a.m on the day of Mahalaya with Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice over the radio, and ends with chanting ‘ashche bochor abar hobe’ together. These 10 days are always regarded as “best time of the year” by any Bengali. People fly in from different parts of the world just to be with family and friends during these 10 days.
Pujo 2018 saw various new additions in the “list of pandals. Notable mentions were Ekdalia Evergreen, with their gigantic and fierce idol of Maa Durga with an equally big chandelier in South Kolkata, whereas in North Kolkata, Baghbazar Sarbojonin maintained their traditional “Shabeki Pujo”. Barring traditional pandals, few like “Jagat Mukherjee Park” had come up with the theme of how our lives would be 200 years from now which was a sight to behold. On the other hand, influence of Bollywood can never be ignored in any part of the country and proving that was Sreebhumi Sporting Club with their theme of Padmavat with the pandal designed as Chittor Fort. 3 to 4 lakhs visitors came to this place every day of the Pujo. Santosh Mitro square really stepped up their game this time with a 40cr worth silver made pandal – the first of its kind in the city ever. Another pandal which deserves special mention is the Ahiritola Sarbojonin where they had made brothel home as their theme. They are not accepted in the society, but the clay for the pujo idols is always brought from brothel homes, the hypocrisy of which was beautifully portrayed in the pandal.
The other section of Pujo consists of small club and para r pujo, where the idol is of 10 to 12 feet in size. No one comes to visit them in the pandal hopping, but the “para” which is organizing them. It becomes the world for those few days. I belong to one such para of Chalantika. Our pujo completed its 20th year in 2018. It is almost as old as I am. It starts during June – selecting and designing the idol, deciding who to give the pandal designing to, who would look after the catering, and when we talk about Durga, we cannot really forget our own Durga, our mothers. So In order to give them a rest for these 5 days, lunch and dinner is prepared in the pandal for everyone. The main saga starts on Ponchomi when a certain group goes to Sealdah to select the Dhaki and another to bring “MAA” to the pandal.
The whole panchami night goes by decorating the pandal. Shosti is all about food and the evening cultural programme in the para. Post dinnerm it’s a ritual on Shosti night to go for pandal hoping by walking. Imagine 30 odd people walking talking, singing, blowing the whistles and going from pandal to pandal. Sleep becomes an optional luxury during these 5 days. Saptami marks the bathing and purification ceremony for “kolabou” (wife of Ganesha) followed by the famous “adda” of Bengalis in the pandal. It is accompanied by dancing to the beats of Dhaak. Oshtomi is marked with wearing a saree and giving pushpanjali, with that small hidden desire to give the pushpanjali standing beside your “special one” This is followed by the Khichuri bhog, and the most beautiful part of Durga puja, where everything is 108. There is a garland of 108 lotuses and during the puja, another 108 lotuses are offered, 108 diyas are lit up, and 108 sweets are given as bhog in this pujo. Nabami is all about the jazz and dressing up to one’s best new attire since it is the last day of the pujo. Navami night is marked by the whole night adda session till Doshomi morning. Doshomi is the like going out with a bang with sindoor khela, the dhunuchi naach and bhashan dance. In our para we all have one customized t-shirt and that becomes our pride when we go out in a procession.Other paras also follow the same ritual and customes. It becomes an unannounced battle about which dhaaki is better, which group can dance with more energy, and everyone secretly or openly sheds a tear when the idol is finally dropped into the water, and everyone wishes only one thing: ASHCHE BOCHOR ABAR HOBE.