It’s that time of the year again! The one that Bengalis eagerly await for the rest of the year. Durga Puja is undoubtedly the biggest, grandest festival celebrated in Bengal & across the world, where there is the Bengali diaspora, in honour of Goddess Durga during the period of Navaratri. From Oslo to Ottawa, from Kolkata to Kuala Lumpur, if there is one thing that unites all Bengalis, it is the annual Durga Puja.
It is often said that Durga Puja is not merely a festival, but an emotion, and a very joyous emotion at that. For someone growing up in a Bengali household, several elements become inextricably connected to the festival. Be it the drool-worthy food, the endless shopping for the best festive attire or the five days of uninterrupted revelry, Durga Puja celebrations go above and beyond just religious rituals. Here’s a look at all those special little Durga Puja things that every Bengali associates with the festival.
Recital of Birendra Krishna Bhadra on Mahalaya
For all Bengalis, Durga Puja begins well before the actual 5 days of the festival. The radio broadcast of Mahishasur Mardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra at the crack of dawn on Mahalaya is when the festival truly kicks off! Childhood memories of reluctantly waking up on a nippy autumn morning to listen to the maestro’s rendition of the story of Goddess Durga’s victory over the evil Mahishasur, is something that will forever remain etched in every Bengali’s mind.
Dhaker Baajna and Dhunuchi Dance
You know there’s a Durga Puja celebration happening in the vicinity if you can hear the rhythmic sound of ‘Dhaak’ filling the air. Waking up on the 5 days of Durga Puja to the sound of a Dhaak beating in the local pandal is probably the best wakeup call for a Bengali. A sound synonymous to Durga Puja, every Bengali has an emotional attachment with this musical instrument, either from the numerous attempts to play it or having danced to its beats, at the very least!
Taking the music and dancing a notch higher during Durga Puja is also the iconic ‘Dhunuchi Naach’, heavily popularized through several Bollywood movies. But for a true-blue Bengali, matching steps to the drum beats while skillfully holding a smoking Dhunuchi (an earthen pot containing flaming coconut husk and camphor, used as part of prayer rituals), is an essential part of the festivities. Dhunuchi Naach is not just for worshipping the Goddess, but it also takes on a fun competitive spirit as dancers try to outdo each other’s moves. Whether you win or not doesn’t matter here. All that matters is the festive spirit.
Durga Puja is not just about mindless fun and festivity. It is also about harbouring a sense of community and transcending social, economic and political differences to bring people together. It’s not a festival in the truest sense if every member of the community is not a part of it. And one way Durga Puja manages to do this is through the first love of every Bengali’s life – food! One of the biggest highlights of Durga Puja is the ‘Bhog’, which is essentially a feast offered to the Goddess and then distributed among all devotees. For the Bengali community, this translates into a full-fledged sit-down meal that is served to whoever wishes to join in. The meal, typically a lunch, comprises of khichdi, a Bengali-style mixed vegetable curry, chutney, papad, and sweets. If you ask a Bengali for one of their all-time favourite meals, the answer will most likely be the same – the much-awaited annual Durga Puja Bhog.
No Durga Puja celebration is complete without pandal hopping all night long to get a glimpse of all the creativity and grandeur of the pandals and idols. For non-Bengalis, it may seem like a futile effort since the Goddess being worshipped in every pandal is essentially the same. But Durga Puja is also an outlet for unparalleled creativity in design, decor, and art, showcased through the pandal construction and idol-making. Hence pandal hopping is a great way to find and appreciate all that beauty. But going from one pandal to another, cutting through the crowd is more than just that. It’s a fun activity to do with a group of friends who make the experience even more enjoyable.
Have you even celebrated Durga Puja in its true spirit if you haven’t indulged in food? If there is one thing Bengalis adore, it is delicious food. Durga Puja is a time when diet restrictions are happily tossed to the side to make way for scrumptious dishes like Bengali fish fry, Chicken rolls, Biryani, Rasgulla, and the list goes on. Pandal hopping is incomplete without food and it’s not unusual to find long queues at the food stalls that are set up surrounding a specific pandal.
Durga Puja is a time to dress up in one’s best attire and even flaunt what you got, all in the spirit of the festival. And the run-up to those five days consists of endless hours of shopping, bargaining and finding the best deals. Pre-Durga Puja shopping is a serious business for Bengalis and is almost like an annual ritual, not to be missed at any cost. Younger members of the family typically get cash as a gift before the festival and because it’s Durga Puja, they get a free hand in spending it the way they wish. But it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that most of it goes in picking out stylish new attire for each day of Durga Puja. With new clothes, shoes, and accessories in place, it’s time for Bengalis to put their best foot forward!
Kumartuli is a place laced with nostalgia for most Bengalis. This is the place where Goddess Durga comes to life from clay, carefully sculpted by experienced artisans. It is not only a delightful process to watch, but is also a hot subject for photographers. Most Bengalis know someone or the other who has visited Kumartuli in the quest of artistic frames and shared their find with their entire social circle. But no matter how annoyed that makes you, there’s no denying that Kumartuli deserves the attention it gets.
Bidding goodbye to Maa Durga on the last day of Puja
Durga Puja is an emotional event for the Bengali community. Bengalis welcome Goddess Durga to their homes and lives for five days like one of their own family members. While she’s there, the mood is festive and upbeat. But the last day of Durga Puja, Vijaya Dashami, brings along a tinge of sadness. It’s time for the Goddess to depart and the wait begins for her arrival next year. This day is marked by “Bhashan” or “Visarjan”, whereby the idol is immersed in water, symbolic of her departure. Although not a happy day, Bengalis also end the festival on a hopeful note because ‘Ashche Bochhor Abar Hobe!’, meaning, next year the festivities will resume.
Durga Puja is a time to forgive and forget. Those five days of festivities fill everyone’s heart with joy, hope, and abundance. More than its religious significance, it is a festival that is known for its power to unite people. A Durga Puja pandal, no matter in which part of the world it is in, welcomes every member of the community with open arms, setting itself apart from most other religious celebrations.
There are innumerable such cultural extravaganzas taking place throughout the year in our county. Come, explore some on your next vacation with Sterling Holidays.