Kolkata_Durga Puja, West Bengal

The most awaited time of the year for every Calcuttan / Kolkatan was here and once again I was all geared up to tread the narrow streets of the city, all adorned to the hilt to welcome the goddess Durga. Yet, even this year the festivities were different and unique, and especially for me in many ways. This time round it was a study ground for me, being the case study for my dissertation on the spatial stratagems adopted for  the Durga Puja Pandals, and to top it off I had a great set of friends in town, some gladly and some reluctantly helping me through my research.

The festivities take the city by storm and literally transform almost every nook and corner, combing the city with temporary temples / pandals housing elaborate representations of the deity. These pandals are themed spaces, very often extending beyond the main structure, generally designed to create a fantasy land, housing the idol, food stalls, performance areas and activity zones. Big and small, all pandas have a unique design and a similarly styled idol, sometimes aping an indian craft, or describing a global phenomena and at times just an installation out of a certain material or object.

2011, was a special Durga Puja as i was not only exploring new facets myself, but was also guiding my friends through this cultural extravaganza. Starting with the most talked about puja adorned with aluminum utensils, we streamed through massive crowds and along we saw others which had terra-cotta pots, mirrors and at times streamlined shapes as the major highlights. Stepping out in the evening, we got back home only before sunrise. This went on for the entire 5 days of the festivities with all the eating and resting taking place in the open grounds and food courts around the pandals.

The creative geniuses of Kolkata had decked up the streets in strings of colorful lights and massive gateway type structures. All of these added to the ambience and directed movement to the idols. Idols of varied shapes and sizes , and representative of national and international themes. The most notable off these was a ‘green’ Durga riding over a junk art bull, a 52 feet megalomania unable to fit within a pandal, an idol designed by Sanatan Dinda and the atypical traditional idol at Maddox Square.

After very many contemporary Durga Puja Pandal visits over sleepless nights, many cups of coffee at any and every coffee shop on the way, walking through sweaty yet enthused crowds and tiresome traffic journeys, we visited the oldest celebrations at the house of the medieval land lords of the region. The earliest celebrations can be traced back to the 1600’s when it was an event commemorated only by the rich and influential, the zamindars / landlords. Even today the palatial courtyard of the De family hosts a massive celebration, open to all to worship a copy of their centuries old family idol.

And, then it was time to head back. After experiencing all possible types of puja, maybe just 5% of those to be seen, it was the end of this season and a call for various return journeys. The visitors were returning home, my friends were going back to Delhi and the goddess was on her way back to heaven. To mark her departure the idols are immersed in the holy water of the Ganges after a long and pompous procession through the very streets that housed those idols. Thanks to my friends and the improved traffic management, i was motivated to drive into the immersion grounds and witness the immersion amidst loud drum beating and shouting worshippers, beckoning the deity to return again as she bids farewell saying “Aami Aaschi” (i am returning soon).

Kolkata does this to anyone who steps foot on its grounds. It leaves the traveller wanting more and coaxes the visitor to say “Aami Aaschi”.


Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash


~ by abhimanyuprakash on January 10, 2012.

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