Durga Puja, also known as Dugotsava, is an auspicious Hindu festival that is celebrated almost in every part of India. However, be it because of the frenzy and hype or the connection that the people of Bengal share with it, it is West Bengal undoubtedly which is primarily known for Durga Puja. Yes, major celebrations of Durga Puja in the grandest scale can only be observed in West Bengal.
The very term ‘Durga Puja’ has become synonymous with the Bengalis. However, believe it or not, there are many other places in India where this festival takes place, such as Mahara, Tripura, Assam, Chennai, Nagpur, Lucknow etc. But, again, nothing can match and beat the way West Bengal holds this glorious festival for 10 long days, mainly the last 5 days. With Durga Puja for the year 2018 being only a few days ahead, let’s take a look at what makes Durga Puja so hard to miss at West Bengal.
The Pandal Hopping
Apart from various families and houses celebrating the puja, in West Bengal, there is a Durga Puja in almost every locality held by the local clubs with various themes and fascinating pandal decorations. With everyone waiting for this festival the entire year, no one misses exploring as many pandals as he or she can, during the festival time. While Kolkata boasts some of the most stylish and breathtakingly huge pandal decorations, there are many clubs and committees in West Bengal that still sticks to the traditional pandal get-ups. Even, there are contests held regarding the best puja theme, best idol or in best pandal design categories.
During these five days, the capital city of West Bengal, Kolkata, becomes similar to Mumbai, a city that never sleeps. Yes, if you visit Kolkata even at 2 am at night, you’ll witness crowd gathering and standing in ques at popular Durga Puja arenas to enter the pandals. And some of the finest of artists are employed to come up with the best of pandal designs. For example, last year, similar to that of the super hit movie Baahubali, the kingdom of Mahishmathi was recreated as a pandal, which was one of the biggest pandal attractions of Durga Puja in West Bengal.
Performed on the eighth day of the festival, the ‘pushpanjali’ (flower offering) on Ashtami is something that no Bengali will miss knowingly. This ceremony is a flower offering to the Goddess in the morning after one bathes and gets all decked up in clean and fresh clothes (Males usually wear in ‘Dhuti-Punjabi’ and females prefer ‘Sari’). And the crowd to perform this ceremony at every pandal is hard to miss. No matter at what pandal you are in, or at what part of West Bengal you are in, you’ll see that how people, even strangers, come together to offer flowers to Maa Durga.
Durga Puja is incomplete without the sound of this one musical instrument called ‘Dhaak’. Once the ‘Dhaak-erawaaj’ (the sound of the drums) starts, the actual feel and charm of the Puja takes over the Bengalis. From morning to night, sometimes even for the entire night, the ‘dhaak’ is played. Even, the older and little young ones sometimes try their hands on playing this musical instrument, which no one minds.
No matter how fine a restaurant you have dined in to get a taste of the sumptuous Bengali cuisine, you’re yet to get a real taste of Bengali food if you haven’t tried the ‘pujorbhog’ (food that was offered to the Goddess). From ‘khichuri’ (khichdi) to ‘begun bhaja’ (fried brinjals), from ‘pulao’ (sweetened rice) to chutney (a sweet pickle-like mixture of raisins, dates etc.) etc. are served as ‘pujorbhog’. No matter how much one tries to prepare these food items at home, it won’t deliver the flavor that the festive days of Durga Puja lends to it.
When one is in Kolkata during the Durga Puja, the ‘Sandhya arati’ is one thing that one makes sure to witness as it is truly a spectacular event. Every day Durga Puja becomes a grand festival itself with its own events of rituals, ‘sandhya arati’ being one of them. It is a basic evening offering to the goddess and a crucial part of the Durga Puja rituals. While the incantations and chants continue till the next morning, the entire ‘arati’ thing is accompanied by bells, brasses, and drums, making the evenings magical and worth spending inside the puja pandals.
Don’t confuse ‘Dhunuchinaach’ with some special form of dancing. Rather, you may consider it to be the most famous dancing part of the Durga Puja. Be it the women or the men, all gather in front of the idol and perform this ‘Dhunuchinaach’, by holding the burning dhunuchi (a kind of incense burner) in their hands and offering their dance to the goddess. Don’t be shocked if you see people holding the ‘dhunuchi’ with their mouths and dancing motivating with two more ‘dhunuchi’ in their hands. You can simply consider them to be Pro in ‘dhunuchinaach’ and know that people are excitingly waiting for these pro-dhunuchi-dancers to make their entries.
Durga Puja ends on its 10th day which is known as Dashami, filling the hearts of Bengalis with sadness. As it is the day to bid adieu to the Goddess Durg, which puts an end to the ten days long Durga Puja festival, having a heavy heart is not unnatural. As a ritual of bidding farewell to Maa Durga and starting to wait for the next year again, the married women play the ‘SindurKehla’. For those who never witnessed a Durga Puja in Bengal before, imagine ‘SindurKhela’ to be something like playing Holi, only with the color red and only by women. Yes, the women here greet each other with vermillion on the head and cheeks, making the last day of this great festival a memorable one.
Being a Bengali myself, telling this won’t be wrong that the connection and bond that the Bengalis share with the Durga Puja is something impossible to separate. No matter where we are, how far we are from our state, once it Durga Puja, we try our best to be there and shake our legs with the ‘Dhaak-er-tal’ and ‘Dhunuchinaach’. Even if you’re not a Bengali, you must once at least visit West Bengal, especially the city of joy Kolkata, during this festival and watch the people here bask in its true spirit or friendship and love.