This year I spent my Durga Puja in Kolkata. This was the first time when I was witnessing the biggest festival of Bengalis in Bengal.
The trip was very short though, just 2 days after which we left for Sikkim. In these 2 days I got to see about 20 Pujas including the Shobha Bazar Puja.
According to Wiki: “The first Puja was organised by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of the Shobhabazar Rajbari of Calcutta in honor of Lord Clive in the year 1757. The Puja was organised because Clive wished to pay thanks for his victory in the Battle of Plassey. He was unable to do so in a Church because the only church in Calcutta at that time was destroyed by Siraj-ud-Daulah. Indeed many wealthy mercantile and Zamindar families in Bengal made British Officers of the East India Company guests of honour in the Pujas. The hosts vied with one another in arranging the most sumptuous fares, decorations and entertainment for their guests. This was deemed necessary since the Company was in charge of a large part of India including Bengal after the battles of Plassey and Buxar.”
I can’t compare the Pujas of Kolkata and Delhi because both have their own charm and it would be an injustice if I say one is better than the other because my opinions would always be biased towards Delhi because Delhi is my home.
Kolkata offered me a different Puja where Pandal hopping is done mostly to see the decorations. Unlike Delhi, where people hop from one place to the other for 3 major reasons, first to see decorations, second for food stalls and third for cultural shows. I could not get a glimpse of any cultural show or any food stall, though Vinayak kept telling me that there are Pujas where you have all of that. In Kolkata people eat out in restaurants during Puja which also came as a surprise because we have always eaten out at the Pandals and restaurant is the last place one goes during Puja in Delhi. Bhog was also something which I missed. I am not saying that you don’t get it in Kolkata may be I missed out on going to those Pandals where you get to see all this.
In Delhi, Bhog, food stalls, prasad, shows are common to all Pujas no matter how big or small. One reason could be that in Kolkata the Puja is celebrated in every nook and corner, sometimes even on the main road. So you would get to see these things only when it is done in a much bigger enclosed area where safety of the people can be taken care of. The other difference that I saw was the lack of seating arrangements. In Delhi every Pandal has chairs where people can sit. In Kolkata since the scale is so huge which makes it difficult have seating arrangements every where.
Weather in Delhi during Autumn is pleasant and in Kolkata, humid. Puja in Kolkata is a creative expression for the artists. The entire city looks like a huge exhibition of installations. Each better than the other. Men and women all equally decked up to match up with the entire feel of the festival. In Delhi this level of decoration is seen only at few places. Decorations in Kolkata range from being classy to wild to whacky. In one Pandal you have a Burmese style idol, in the next Pandal you might get to see an Idol made up of wire mesh, decorations as wild as having skeletons hanging from the ceiling to plastic hose. This is the level of creativity which overwhelms and awes the onlookers.
Another thing which I have never seen in Delhi is the “Kola Bou Snan” (literally translates in to “Bathing the Banana Tree which is considered to be Lord Ganesha’s wife”) which is a ceremony in which a banana tree is bathed in the Ganges early morning. The trees are then draped in a white and red saree and carried to the Pandals.
The 10th day of a Delhi Puja ends with a visarjan where the idols are immersed in water. Huge effigies of Ravana are also burnt simultaneously and then people greet each other with “Bijoya” wishes after taking the “shanti jal”. The morning is when married women play with sindoor. I missed seeing all this in Kolkata because we were not in the city on that day. May be next time I would spend the 10th day there. One thing more that intrigued me was that in Kolkata immersion of the Devi does not happen on a Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday even if that is the 10th day.
Puja for a Delhite is a community affair where its about bumping in to old friends, celebrating the Puja together with family. Young girls being worshipped by women during navratris, ram lilas and Dushehras, good food and evenings filled with magic shows, concerts, orchestras, jatras, fancy dress competition, recitation competition, dance competition, singing competition, sports day, musical chairs and so many other things. There are book stalls, music stalls, stalls where you can buy handloom clothes and then you have piping hot Bhog every day for which you stand in the queue for 2 hours. Khichdi never tastes so good. You have young girls and boys cutting vegetables for the Bhog, Uncles collecting donations, Aunties taking care of cultural events and Anondo Mela, a fair where ladies show case their culinary skills which usually happens on the 6th day of the Puja, the dhunachi dance and the cacophony of balloon sellers, chaat sellers, lost children, fighting couples, screaming cops and the volunteers trying to manage the show displaying their huge badges.
This is how I wanted to see and experience Puja in Kolkata. Where I would become a part of the celebrating crowd rather than a sweaty, camera held tourist. May be the next time when I go there I would make sure that I get to feel the pulse of the city during Puja.
In all Puja felt very different. I had gone there with an impression of the entire city immersed in celebration but I could see the stark contrast between celebration and people for whom it meant business as usual and few extra bucks or few extra hours. The traffic cops for example, went about doing their duty in their drab uniforms managing the traffic of cars and taxis and people all dressed up. Rickshaw walas ferrying people from Pandal to Pandal. The Phuchka seller who made more money to buy better food for his family. The rag picker who picked more garbage and the guards at the society gates.
Puja in Kolkata is an artists delight, a tourists dream trip, a Bengalis last dying wish and party lovers expatriate. What I missed was the community affair and the warm homely feel to it which is the highlight of any Puja in Delhi.
NOTE:- Few Photos are Vinayak’s (Rights Reserved)