Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Durga Puja Celebration





The sun has risen upon the azure sky. The birds sang hymn of accolades as the Kolkata unfolds itself to the biggest of all festival, Durga Puja. All of now felt the difference in fragrance of air. Nature in Bengal dressed up for celebration. As the kaash phool blooms and sways in white streaks in the sylvan fields, the sky tingled blue with white clouds. It’s that time of the year again when we usher in Maa Durga with much pomp and how. Durga Puja is celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October) and commemorates prince rama's invocation of the goddess before going to war with the demon king Ravana. This autumnal ritual was different from the conventional Durga Puja, which is usually celebrated in the springtime. So, this Puja is also known as 'akal-bodhan' or out-of-season ('akal') worship ('bodhan').
Durga Puja - the ceremonial worship of the mother goddess, is one of the most important festivals of India. Apart from being a religious festival for the Hindus, it is also an occasion for reunion and rejuvenation, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs. While the rituals entails ten days of fast, feast and worship, the last four days - Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami - are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur in India and abroad, especially in Bengal, where the ten-armed godness riding the lion is worshipped with great passion and devotion.
Durga puja,the most happening festival of the Bengalis can be sensed with its spurt of fanfare on all the four days of the Durga Puja festival. This autumnal festival popularly known as Sharodotsav, recalls the power of female Shakti symbolized by the Goddess Durga who slays asura to reestablish peace and sanctity on earth again. Bengalis all over the world during these days of Durga Puja rejoice to their heart's content reconnecting with friends and relatives. Durga Puja is an occasion when the familiar sound of Dhak, Dhunuchi nachh,the mild fragrance of Shiuli, gives a familiar tug to every Bengali heart.
My experience of Durga Puja at kolkata, is most memorable moment here at west Bengal. Ideally the city became busy at least a month before the festival starts and we see the finishing touches being put on the pandals and idols of the goddess. It’s the festival of lights…Kolkata glistened to the lights of Durga puja celebration, people charmed with traditional attires. Bengali women usually wear traditional sarees like tussar, katha stitch, cotton and silk. However modern girls prefer fashionable sarees like bandhni silk, gujarati silk, etc while most tiptoed with tight geans with short kameezes.
The start of the festival sees huge, elaborately crafted statutes of Goddess Durga installed in homes and beautifully decorated podiums all over the city. At the end of the festival, the statutes are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much music and dancing, and then immersed in the water.
The beautifully handcrafted idols of Godness Durja are magnificent and stunning. Durga Puja officially gets underway early on the morning of Saptami, the seventh day of Navaratri. A special ritual is performed to infuse the energy of the Goddess into the idols, installed on podiums across the city. This is done through a small banana plant called a Kola Bou. Accompanied by drummers and the chanting of mantras by a Hindu priest, the Kola Bou is bathed and purified in the river. It's then dressed up in a sari with a red border and carried, in a procession, back to the idol where it's placed alongside Lord Ganesh (son of Goddess Durga). Many people consider the Kola Bou to be Lord Ganesh's wife.
The highlight of Durga Puja is no doubt visiting the many different displays (pandals) of Goddess Durga, each with a unique theme. This activity is often referred to a "pandal hopping". There are thousands of pandals in Kolkata so it's only possible to visit a fraction of them -- and even then it requires a bit of strategic planning as they're spread out all over the city. You'll find the most well known ones in north and south Kolkata, which is conveniently connected by the Metro railway. The most popular time for pandal hopping is in the night when they're lit up. If you go during the day, you can avoid much of the crowd.
There's never a better time to sample Kolkata's famous Bengali cuisine than Durga Puja. The festival isn't considered to be complete without food! You'll find a wide array of it everywhere -- on the streets, at the pandals, and in specialty Bengali restaurants.  Pandal hopping does get tiring, so eating while you're out and about is a must. The food served to visitors at the pandals is called bhog (offerings to the god which are distributed). It commonly consists of mixed vegetable curry, a sweet dish, fried item, and chutney. Kolkata's Bengali restaurants also have exclusive Durga Puja menus packed full of authentic delicacies -- both buffet and a la carte.
On the last day of Durga Puja, known as Dashami, the festivities commence with married women placing red sindoor (powder) on the idols of Goddess Durga. They then smear it on each other. In the evening, the idols are immersed in the water. One of the most popular immersion points is Babu Ghat (centrally located near Eden Garden), although you'll be able to catch the action at any of the ghats along the river. An excellent way of seeing it is by boat. 
The Durga Puja festival is an extremely social and theatrical event. Drama, dance, and cultural performances are widely held. Food is a huge part of the festival, and street stalls blossom all over Kolkata. In the evenings, the streets of Kolkata fill with people, who come to admire the statues of Goddess Durga, eat, and celebrate...