I remember walking around Durga Puja pandals in my hometown holding the hands of my parents. The announcements of children being lost and looking for their parents used to terrify me a lot. Time went by, pandal hopping continued. Parents were replaced by friends and new friends kept replacing old ones.
Durga Puja’s fun and frolic is way too superior to any festival all year round. My work and my travels stole a huge part of this pandal hopping from me but then I got it back when during my time spent in Delhi.
Observing the Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata has been a life long dream. The gorgeous pandals, the mouthwatering food stalls and the extravaganza of culture and rituals tempt me to leave my routine and become a part of the celebrations myself.
Delhi holds this special part of this festival in the lanes of Chittaranjan Park. The Bengali community in Malviya Nagar, Safdarjang Enclave and Pashchim Vihar also celebrate Pujo in their respective areas with the same grandeur and enthusiasm.
Lucky for people like me who wish to get a glimpse of Pujo without traveling all the way to Kolkata. These members of Bengali community have heart larger than the pujo pandals they build and welcome you as if you are one of their own. These happy bunch of people consider Maa Durga as a member of their family. They welcome her like a daughter who has come home from her sasural (in laws place) after a year and then bid her goodbye with emotions running high.
Speaking of Durga Puja is incomplete without talking about the food. Chittaranjan Park is a popular hangout spot for the foodies all year long but during Pujo this love elevates to a whole new level. There are umpteen small food stalls selling egg rolls, mutton ghughni, different varieties of sweets, fish and egg pakodas, shawarma, Kabiraji, biryani, chaat, kachori, mishti doi and what not. Every pandal has a certain specialty when it comes to food. The Kali Bari has an array of Oriya sweets (Sweets from Orissa state) while the mela ground is frequented by the chaat lovers.
What makes the Durga Puja celebrated by the Bengali Community special is some of the rituals that one can see during the festival. The Durga aarti is one such ritual. It starts at the time suggested by the priests and then goes on for an hour. Durga Puja aarti is someone similar to Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, the only difference being the respective goddesses for whom the aarti is dedicated to. Dhak or dhol performers play their drums in an open space near the idol and continue for an hour or so. The sound of the drums uplifts the atmosphere of Durga Puja by several degrees.
Then comes Dhunuchi, a dance ritual performed by primarily by Bengali Women and sometimes by men. The idea behind the Dhunuchi Dance is to appease Goddess Durga. To do so, devotees perform Dhunuchi along with the rhythmic beats of Dhak during Durga Puja. The devotees balance an earthen bowl containing burning incense either with their hands, forehead and sometimes even with mouth.
The women start with the performance, the dhaks start playing matching to the footsteps of the performer. The performer dances their way around Maa Durga’s idol while almost going in a state of trance.
On the morning of Dashmi, Maa Durga is given an emotional sendoff. The rituals start with Darpan Visarjan, which is a symbolic way to bid Maa Durga goodbye. On the last day of Puja the rituals are completed after the priest shakes the “Kalash” that was placed on the first day of Pujo. This Kalash is kept on the day one of pujo to welcome the goddess. Post this the head priest of the pandal performs Darpan Visarjan (Mirror Immersion). A mirror is placed on a plate of water. It is said that this water and mirror absorb energy from the idol. Everyone present during this event is encouraged to see the reflection of the idol and her feet through the mirror.
After this a ladder is placed in from of Maa Durga. The women climb this ladder and feed the Goddess for a happy journey.
Finally, the women rub red vermilion on each other cheeks. This ritual is known as Sendur Khela and is usually performed by Married Women of the community.
The three days of Durga Puja took me back to my childhood. It was all about meeting new people, becoming friends with the friends of my friends and eating good food. This year, I had so much fun all by myself. I met new people, had good food and got some really good shots. I hope I spend my next Pujo in Kolkata and get a more authentic feeling of the festival.
Roopam dehi, jayam dehi, yasho dehi dwisho Jahi!