Top pandals to visit in West Bengal
A special fervour grips the City of Joy during ‘pujo’ when the different areas of the city burst into colour and revelry seeking Goddess Durga’s blessings. Pandal hopping is the best way to see the myriad themes ranging from traditional to the contemporary that mark these celebrations. We tell you about the best pandals to visit this year.
Laketown Adibasi Brinda: The passage of time that no one has any control over, and the change the goddess’ idols have seen over the years – from ‘Eakchala Durga’ to ‘Theme Durga’ – that will be emphasized in the pandal here. It also stresses on the need for peace that man has control over, and can offer to all his fellow living beings and even the environment.
Ekdalia Evergreen Club: Famous for its replicas of temples from all over India, this year’s pandal has been inspired by Chennai’s Mahalakshmi Temple and the innovative lighting is a take-off from Disneyland and Jurassic World.
Kumartuli Park: This one’s special as it’s organized in the very area that houses the clay artisans who specialise in Durga idols. Little wonder then the pandal here inspires feelings of awe with its artistry, beauty and grandeur.
College Square: Established in 1940s, the College Square puja has a picturesque setting beside a lake. Famous for its lights installations, this year’s pandal decorations take their inspiration from the Rama Chandra Temple in Jaipur.
Jodhpur Park: One of the most popular South Kolkata pujas, this year’s theme stresses on the need to conserve the environment. Taking centre stage are the birds that want a pure, unpolluted environment but man, through his greed, is killing that.
Badamtala Asher Sangha: This year’s pandal offers a street of America with its iconic buildings and a Disneyland auditorium with a beautiful Durga idol. It is a tribute to the ‘U.S.-India Travel and Tourism Partnership Year’. Eight American girls have especially flown down to take part in the celebrations and dance performances.
Bagbazaar: This puja pandal has been around for about 100 years now. It’s a relatively simple one and is known for the strikingly beautiful idol of Durga.
Maddox Square: Famous for its youthful, carnival-like atmosphere, and with the beautiful idol made by the artisans from Krishnanagar, the atmosphere here can best be described as ‘homely’.
Other notewrothy pujas: Mohammad Ali Park Pandal, Singhi Park, Mudiali, Suruchi Sangha and Selimpur.
Bonedi bari pujas:Some homes of the erstwhile landlords (zamindars) and the aristocracy (bonedi) of Bengal spring back to life during the puja and tours are organised for those interested in being part of the traditional ceremonies that are held in their colonnaded courtyards. Some families also offer bonedi culinary delights like maharani dal that go back to the era of the early East India Company when Lord Clive would also attend these festivities. There are about 50 such bonedi baris (homes) where some grand festivities can be viewed.
Some Bonedi bari pujas to visit are:
Sovabazaar’s Raj Bari
33R, Raja Nabakrishna Street, Near Sovabazaar Metro and Lal Mondir
Jorasanko’s Narasingha Daw Bari
12A, Shib Krishna Daw Lane, Vivekananda Road
Hatkhola Dutta Bari
78, Neemtala Ghat Street
Chhatu Babu Latu Babu Bari
Ramdulal Nibas (Thakurbati), 67E, Beadon Road
2A, Bidhan Sarani, Sovabazar, Bidhan Sarani
Das Bari: Situated at Kapalitola, off Central Avenue, this puja is celebrating its bicentenary this year. At this puja, Durga is worshipped according to Vaishnav traditions.
West Bengal’s Tourism Department tours: You can also enjoy the pujas with a boat ride on the Hooghly. West Bengal’s Tourism Department (WBTDC) organises river cruises both in the morning and in the afternoon. You can even watch the dashami idol immersion on a river cruise.
WBTDC’s puja parikrama tours are quite good, and have become popular with locals as well as foreign tourists. You can choose from several packages – the Sanatani tour, takes tourists to traditional pujas, Uttara tour that all the well-known pujas of north Kolkata (the older part of the city). The Dakshini package visits South Kolkata pujas. Another package includes visit to pujas outside Kolkata and covers travels to Hooghly, Bardhaman and Murshidabad districts. The Bijoya package is a two days and three nights tour to Bishnupur.
Walking tour: The easiest way to experience the pandals is to take a puja tour, such as the ones organised by the WBTDC. However, there are a handful of promising private walking tours run by well-informed locals which can be even better. Like Calcutta Walks and Let’s Meet Up Tours. Tours and walks cost between Rs. 899 to 2000.
Tours to pujas outside the city are gaining popularity with people who want to avoid the crowds, frenzy and commercialisation of Kolkata’s pujas. Rituals and idols in these pujas have held on to traditions. A bonus can be the bhog fare which can be radically different from Kolkata pujas – from goat curry to hilsa with parathas and fish cooked with radishes. And sometimes, it’s on the house.
Belur Math: It is known for its Kumari puja – performed on ashtami – where girls are worshipped as personifications of the goddess. It is believed that the girl worshipped symbolises the power that regulates creation, stability and destruction on earth. This tradition follows the ideals of 19th century saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa who said that the Divine Mother manifests herself more in a pure-hearted girl.
Sheoraphuli’s royal family puja: A 281 year old puja, the idol has been with the family for years and is worshipped throughout the year. It is created with eight precious metals and Durga is shown minus her children.
Cooch Behar: Situated at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, Cooch Behar was declared a heritage city for its many old monuments. Like the Bara Debi Bari which hosts a huge fair during the time of Durga Puja.
Dey family, Borshul, Burdwan: The idol is made of clay with Durga and her family seated on a single hemispheric structure called ekchaala. She is in a peaceful avatar minus weapons and lion.
Chongdars at Gushkara, Bolpur: They follow tantric traditions and rituals in their 500 year old puja. This too is famous for its ekchaala protima. Debenranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore were regular visitors here.
Dashghara Biswas Bari: The puja is celebrating its 300th year here. The traditional zamindar home is 500 years old and has a huge pond called Goopisagar.
Lataguri and Jalpaiguri, Dooars: The former is a picturesque little village which celebrates Durga Puja with fervour. The Pal Chowdhury Bari and Prantik Sangha pujas are popular. The latter is one of the oldest cities of colonial Bengal, the oldest puja of the town is Baikunthapur Rajbari’s which started in the 16th century.