07:36 GMT +319 October 2019
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    A young Indian Hindu unmarried girl, Nilanjana Chakraborty (5), known as a 'kumari' and dressed as the Hindu goddess Durga, puts her hand up during a ritual for the Durga Puja festival at Ramakrishna Mission in Agartala, the capital of northeastern state of Tripura on October 21, 2015

    Durga Puja

    © AFP 2019 / ARINDAM DEY
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    Durga Puja - the happiness that October presents every year

    Just like a prelude promises a piece of music and captivates your attention to engross yourself into the crests and troughs of the musical composition, the latter days of September with its clear blue skies promise you the extravagant festival of Durga Puja that’s surely going to happen in the month of October every year. In West Bengal the fountain of festivity rains happiness, not only throughout its stately boundary, but also in most parts of India and now in many parts of the world too.

    Yes it is Durga Puja.

    Street in Kolkata, India
    © Sputnik / Vitaliy Saveliev
    The Goddesses Durga with her ten hands holding the various weapons pierce the heart of the demon Mahisasur. All her 4 children Kartik, Ganesha, Lakkhi and Saraswati with their avatars accompany her on stage. Their father and her husband Lord Shiva sees all from above.

    Well now let’s come off stage and have a look at the audience.

    It’s not just a Puja with aarti and sole devotion to God. But, it’s a festival that makes the best attire out of you and gives you the joy ride for the last 4 days of the 10 days of Durga Puja. Here in West Bengal, offices are closed for the last 3 to 4 days.

    Just a month before the puja the flavour of the spirit around your mind changes and a sense of happiness with the fragrance of perfumes on your new clothes fill your mind. Never to forget mentioning the pair of shoes or sandals you would buy for yourself or for your loved ones.

    As always, food remains another great treat that comes with the Puja. Without the various street foods as well as food from regular restaurants, Puja is not fulfilled. As such in addition to the regular restaurants, tens and hundreds of stalls are being installed along the main streets.

    Foods might range from Indian version of Chinese Chowmin; that is basically fried (don’t expect high quality 5 star restaurant types) noodles along with some vegetables and eggs and the red vivid sauce is a must if you want to take the full flavour.

    Other popular items are the group of Rolls i.e., Egg Roll, Chicken Roll, Egg Chicken Roll and some special rolls that might be the exclusive of a store. It’s basically a chapatti made of wheat and then fried in oil along with an egg and if you are lucky you will get some potatoes inside along with the sauce, onions, and cucumber.

    Another newly added item over the recent years is the Biryani. Biryani is one of the favourite items of Kolkatans and it’s giving a tough competition to the Chowmin group. The very sight of a giant Handi (utensil for making rice and storing it for a few hours) covered with a dark red drapery would give you desire to have it.

    It generally comes with mutton, chicken, boiled eggs and potatoes along with the rice and well a pair of green or red chilli with a tinge of salt, onions, and a slice of green lemon. The other ingredient that essentially gives exclusive tastes to same Biryani from different stores depends solely on the stores and they never disclose it.

    There are several popular Biryani specialists in Kolkata but one should not forget that the credits of the invention of Biryani go to the Muslim Rulers of the Mughal Periods in India. Later, slowly but steadily the culture and practice of having Biryani were adopted by the ordinary people of different castes in India. And as such the Biryani culture is stronger and well known in the cities like Hyderabad and Lucknow that are well known for having a popular Nawab(Muslim rulers called themselves Nawabs). Let’s get back to Durga Festival and Kolkata.

    Although, during the time of Durga Puja you could expect to find Biryani stores’ quite frequently along the streets  but don’t expect to get the same tastes that you would have otherwise got by having a plate of Biryani at a regular restaurant.

    Well, everybody does not eat meat, eggs or fish. For vegetarians the city offers some tasty dishes too. Well, you will surely get ‘vegetable chowmin’, here in Kolkata’s street food stores the word ‘Chowmin’ is more popular than ‘noodles’. Maybe because the idea of ‘noodles’ gives the impression of only ‘Chowmin’. Apart of noodles one can have ‘luchi-cholar dal or luchi aaloor dom’, Veg noodles and of course Veg Biryani that is Biryani with potato inside. You will always find a lot of wheat made items along with vegetable dishes. Kolkata is well known for its Sweets (Mishtis) all over the world. So, you always can have the flavour of sweets.

    During the peak hours don’t think you will get the food from a desired store without waiting. You have to have the patience to wait for at least 15 or 20 minutes before you get a seat, but sometime the time can stretch to more than an hour as well. Don’t expect 5 star quality foods in a street shop but enjoy the entire Puja ambiance.

    However, there are a number of companies who provide VIP passes and shows you the various pandals (the houses of the idols) in AC vans. If you are uncomfortable standing in a queue in the hot and humid temperature, then you should hire some company that would provide you a comfortable tour.

    The number of people visiting per pandals per day is no less than several lakhs so right from the time of afternoon to early dawn next day you will always find the streets full with people. Kids too comprise a large percentage of the crowd. The crowd is what makes the grandeur of the festival. The festival of Durga Puja is incomplete without a big crowd with lots of people and long queues. There are various very experienced and talented sculpting artists who carve the sand and give shape to the idols. Then the color is done.

    In recent years the makers of the idols have gained much importance and their works have been published by some of the very well-known international news agencies. Idols are also being exported in various other parts of the world. Not just the shape and quality of the sculpting is to be noticed, but the dress and ornaments of the idols are worth noticing. Idols come in different shape, size, theme and attire.

    Nowadays something called THEME Puja has been developed that essentially means that the entire pandal will be constructed on a theme like for example a mountain, cave, store or say water pollution, global warming, some valiant action or even some scenes of some popular movies can be made into a pandal and the idol and lighting will be matched with the theme.

    A forest with animals or even a desert, a heaven and hell can also be the theme of a pandal. Sometimes in some pandals original jewellery and ornaments make the part of the attire and weapons of Maa Durga. Some jewellery houses sponsor those Pujas. This has been the outer part of the Puja.

    The main part consists of prayers to the Goddesses every morning and evening. During the time of the ritualistic worship by the Brahmin priests Dhaks(a type of drum played with sticks) are being played and it draws the attraction of almost all people present at the place at that time.  A lot of media covers the entire pujas and pandals and they are being shown on television and uploaded on the internet. Even in the local news channels and local Bangla channels you will find adda (discussion) over Durga Festival. During the puja time the entire West Bengal with all its components glitter and smiles.

    In the past when the puja was first started it was the sole agency of the Rajas (kings of the area), Zamindars (wealthy landlords under British Rule) and Babus (generally rich Bengali businessmen). But, later the culture and trend of collecting public money for organizing the Durga Puja were started and practiced by several locals clubs and associations in different localities of West Bengal.

    Although even today we can find several families continue to organize their family Durga Puja even if their zamindari and business have long gone. The Pujas mainly project the prestige, goodwill and former glory of the rich families of West Bengal and people too expect those families to hold Durga Puja. Without these family Pujas Durga Puja would be incomplete.

    In the past, the concept of social crowd funded Pujas were not present. Puja was also a sign of grandeur, wealth and family reputation and thus ordinary citizens as well as lower caste people could not even dream of conducting crowd funded pujas. But, time progressed and with it the psychology and knowledge of the mind also developed and today West Bengal is synonymous to Durga Puja in the month of October.

    The priest has to be from an upper class Brahmin Hindu family. The ritualistic Evening Worships offer a magnificent aura with the rhythmic movement of the priest holding the lamp and the bell. The sound of the bell accompanied by the sound of the Dhaks creates a sense of positive feeling inside your heart and elevates your soul towards a higher truth. The month of October is a good time to visit West Bengal and mainly Kolkata. Although you would find Durga Puja all over West Bengal, the grandeur and richness both in terms of creativity and beauty of the idols as well as the pandals are best offered by Kolkata.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.


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