This is the time when Maa Durga comes home.
Come to Bengal when Maa (mother) Durga, the Shakti (power) form of Parvati, Lord Shiva’s wife comes to her parents’ home (father, Himalaya and mother, Maneka) with her four children, Ganesha, Saraswati, Laxmi, Kartikeya.
Worshipping of Goddess Durga is the celebration of strength, courage, fearlessness and patience. And it is done in Calcutta with style.
Mahalaya is the first new moon in Saratkal, in the month of Ashwin. From then starts the Devipokkha (the time of the Goddess). The pujas (worshipping) start on the MahaShosthi (sixth day after full moon) through MahaSaptami (the seventh day after), MahaAshtami (the eighth day after), MahaNabami (the ninth day after) till MahaDoshomi (the tenth day after), which is also known as MahaBijaya or Dussera that also signifies the day Lord Rama triumphed over Ravana besides being the last day of worship. (Maha signifies ‘grand’)
For us, the Bengalis and Calcuttans in general, this is the festival of the year. And the longest holiday. In Bengali year 1416 (English 2009), there were over 3000 pujas in Calcutta alone, excluding the private pujas at homes. Not just the puja itself, Calcutta is famous for its wondrous and innovative pandals (temporary structures for religious festivals) and the beautiful protimaa (idols) usually made of clay. Kumortuli is famous world-wide for its intricate workmanship and the exquisite clay-idols.
Pandal-hopping is all the rage in here. The city is also completely lighted up for the whole week. No one stays at home, everyone from and outside the city celebrate. The footfall at several pandals crosses lakhs. The pujas are also incomplete without the dhakis and dhunuchhi naach. The dhakis (plays the musical instrument ‘dhak‘) kick up a rythymic beat, the sound of which has one and all dancing (See a video here). Then there are the dhaker lorai, which is the dhak-playing competition usually between two separate pujas. Dhunuchhi naach is a difficult and exiciting dance with burning dhoona in a vessel in hand (See the videos here and here). There is even a certain smell of the pujas, incense sticks mingled with the fragnance of flowers and dhoona, the feel of the pujas are in the air.
Pandal hopping in our new clothes, in this festival of happiness, all and any distinctions cease to exist as the city dresses in gaiety and dances in merriment. This is the time for family, and friends, old and new. The city ceases to sleep for the four days.
This year people had started going around pandals from Chathurthi (the fourth day after new moon). We started on Panchami (the fifth day after). On MahaShosthi, we had a whole night plan with family and friends. It had rained in the morning but the rains couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Festival. We started at 8 PM and got back home at 5:30 in the morning.
We had another late night on Saptami.
Also the main day of celebration, most people take bhog on this day. We usually wear our best new dresses on this day. Women will be most seen in sarees and the men in panjabi-chosth, if not, dhotis.
On this day, there was less of pandal-hopping and more of adda with friends and family.
Several prizes are given out to the best pandals, best protimaa in Calcutta. It rained again but everyone was out with their umbrellas. The whole day was spent looking up those prize-winning pujas, and also spent with old friends.
Bijaya means ‘victory’. On this day, mainly the Bengalis touch the feet of their elders for blessings, and everybody eats sweets (mithai) celebrating the Bijaya. Usually we wish each other, “Subho Bijaya“, subho meaning ‘good’. Also, the married ladies take part in sindoor khela, that is they apply vermilion on each others’ faces and foreheads, after applying the same to the Goddess.
In other parts of India, Dussera is celebrated with delight by the burning of the idol of Ravana. For us, it is a day of mixed feelings for it is the time for bishorjon, that is, the Goddess leaves the idol, and goes back to her husband’s home to Kailasa from Earth, symbolised by the immersion of the idol of Maa Durga in the Ganges river.
The pandals were diverse and the workmanship, awesome- an imaginary temple in the heart of Himalays (Notundal, Behala), a giant mushroom (Shristi-Sahajatri, Behala), pagoda (Lake Town Adhibasi Brindo), Nepal (Tridhara), pandal made out of baskets (Bharat Chakra, Dumdum Park), of banana tree barks (Shibmandir), of dolls (Lalbagan Nabankur) and several other innovative ones were there, like every year. And intricate sculptures are a part of almost every pandal. It is difficult to recognise the city during this time. The pandals were however very difficult to photograph, as without an eagle’s eye view, the perspective is lost.
Here are a few glimpses of the Festival in Calcutta 2009.
I am sharing few of the best pictures of the idols and some pandals that I could manage.
22. MahaAshtami morning Pushpanjali (cell-phone camera)
23. The puja on MahaAshtami (cell-phone camera)
For more photographs of other great protimaas and pandals of Calcutta 2009, you can check Indian Pundit‘s (a blogger buddy) collection at Live the Dream : Maa Durga:The Ultimate Goddess-Part-1 and Maa Durga:The Ultimate Goddess and Great Pandals-Part-2