Festival of the month: Durga Puja :: Lonely Planet India
When it’s time for Durga Puja (25 – 30 September 2017) the atmosphere around many cities is infused with excitement and frenzy of preparations. Celebrated throughout the country but with extra vigour in West Bengal, which is decked up like a new bride. The spirit of Durga Puja is such that it envelops everyone, even non-Bengalis into its fold. Celebrated in the Hindu month of Ashwin it marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura. Coinciding with Navaratri, the ‘pujo’ celebrations continue for a period of ten days but it is from the sixth day onwards till the ninth, that devotees start thronging the huge pandals for the celebrations.
Stunningly painted, larger-than-life idols of Durga, created out of clay are the highlight of every pandal. It is difficult not to gaze in wonder at the resplendent beauty of the goddess who stands tall, benevolence writ large on her face, as she’s seen slaying the demon Mahishasura.
Goddess and her entourage
Each area or neighbourhood strives to outdo the other in creating beautiful idols of Durga and the other gods she shares space with – Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, prosperity), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (god of good beginnings) and Kartikeya (god of war). Her husband Lord Shiva who can also be seen in the whole installation. The pushpajanli on Ashtami morning is a must-see where everyone comes together to offer flowers to the deity. Come evening, the dhanuchi dance with drums, bells and brasses takes centre stage. The ‘sandhya aarti’ or the evening offering is an integral part of the rituals and the chant and incantations continue till the wee hours.
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Other than the ‘prasad’ that is served to Durga Ma, the pandals have a veritable feast on offer – do try out the various delicacies including sandesh, malpua, kolar bora, doi fulkopi besides the luchi and alur torkari on Maha Saptami and goodies such as shukto, begun bhaja, mangsher singara and mochar ghonto, among others, that are all part of the Bengali palate during this festival.
Time to say goodbye
On the last day, married women gather at the Puja pandals to smear each other with sindur (vermillion) in a ceremony called ‘sindoor khela’ and there is much joy and laughter around. Finally, it’s time for Durga’s immersion in water when amidst much revelry and even tears, everyone bids her goodbye and asks her to visit them again next year.