A special festival – Durga Puja

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Durga Puja
Photo courtesy of Indrajit Das – Wikimedia Commons

Since I’m musing about Kolkata, I wanted to share about a little-known but huge festival in this part of the hugely heterogeneous India. I am Welsh-born, but Kolkata is where my mom’s side of the family were based since the late 1940s, post-partition (when the British divided the country into different bits, basically). I don’t consider myself religious at all, but there is this festival which takes place annually around Sep/Oct. It’s called Durga Puja. I won’t go into the mythological/religious origins of it, because 1) I am not religious and 2) It is more of a social event and that’s the aspect I want to write about.

It is a carnival like no other!!! The excitement starts a few months in advance, when people start their puja shopping. The tradition is to wear new clothes for the 5 days of puja, adorned with jewelry and accessories. Men, women, and children of all walks of life roam the streets for 5 days, 24/7, in their finery, to view the ‘pandals’ amid cacophony and friendly chaos. What are pandals, you ask?

For months leading up to the festival, expert artisans with no formal training spend long and arduous hours creating beautiful clay models of goddesses and gods, decked up in Indian finery. These idols are then placed in pandals, which are their temporary abode for a few days. However, this is where the artists and patrons can really unleash their creativity to match their purse strings. The pandals can be built in the image of almost ANYthing – this year, some of the highlights included a Thai temple, Buckingham palace, and even the NYC skyline! It may sound tacky at first, but imagine hundreds such pandals citywide – every single one of them as unique as the clay idols themselves. This is where it’s such a social festival and religion becomes secondary  – it’s one big party where people dress up, visit these temporary works of art, forget their worries, eat delicious food, and spend time with friends and family. Sleep is looked down upon and the streets are teeming with people at all hours.

Unless you visit, Durga Puja in Kolkata will just be a distant second-hand description of a big party. It has been over 26 years since my last Puja in Kolkata and I miss it. While I attend gatherings organized by expats in the West, NOTHING can replicate the fervor of the real thing. But enough of me. Let the article and pics here speak for themselves. Have you visited? What’s your take on it?

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