“You can take the craze of Diwali in Delhi, Christmas in London, Summer Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Valentine’s day in Paris and then add it to the month long madness of Olympic Games or the World Cup and cram all that into a span of 5 days and you still wouldn’t know what you are missing if you haven’t been in Kolkata during Durga Puja!”
These are Vir Sanghvi’s words, and he couldn’t have been more right!
This was my second Durga Puja in Kolkata, and it was all the fun you could ask for! The city goes crazy with the very mention of this festival. Otherwise strict parents give a free reign as the youngsters roam around the city with their friends or crushes. Even the city gears up by letting the Metro services run the whole night, and close down in the morning. Even though everyone has moved on in their lives, they all end up together for these few days. And they reminisce, catch up and laugh as they hop pandal to pandal, and still manage to debate with a cigarette in one hand, and a drink in another, whether the state should be run by TMC or CPM.
The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal come together: emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the delicious food, the pride in artistic expression and yes, the cult of the goddess. It may be about religion. But is about much more than just worship. It has little to do with meaningless rituals or sinister political activity.
The pandals go beyond religion, and culminates art & creativity showing off the exquisite craftsmanship. Dhunuchi naach and the dhaak taal hardly lets you stand in one place. Ashtami sees the guys flaunting traditional kurta pyajamas and the girls draping gorgeous saris. The gigantic traffic jams near the pandals that stretch for miles and the group of impeccably dressed men and women walking alongside the motionless cars, but you will not hear anyone complain about walking for hours and hours! And finally on the tenth day (Dashami), the whole city is upset to bade farewell to the Goddess, and all the fun she brought with her. Believe it or not, the city (from youngsters to the elderly) starts their countdown to the next year’s pujo by chanting – “Ashche bochor abar hobe” (It’ll happen again next year).
To understand Puja here, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta, you must understand the Bengalis. It’s not easy, because you love them to be proud of their culture, and hate them for arrogantly claiming that they are the only ones ‘cultured’ in our country! Well, I will talk about that in another blog of mine, but for now just watch out this space for all the fantastic pandals I hopped this Durga Puja. And yes, I cannot wait for Durga Puja to hit next year – Ashche bochor abar hobe!