Nine nights of magic
"Jhandewalan Devi Mandir" says the blue board a few yards from the entrance to this home of the goddess on Rani Jhansi Road—perhaps the oldest Durga temple in the city.
But something is different today about this usually lonely sign, which guides pilgrims to their Jhandewali Mata—goddess Durga incarnate, entrusted with maintaining the moral order of the world.
Today the board, like the temple itself, is bathed in light.
Not the borrowed light from street lamps and passing vehicles, but the glow of hundreds of bulbs— of different hues and sizes —set up as decoration for almost half a kilometer down the road.
It's the first day of the navratris—the nine days devoted to worshipping the goddess in her as many aspects—and hordes of devotees are pouring into the temple’s ancient compound.
Many have walked barefoot from their homes—like 12-year-old Mayank Jain.
Jain—a class six student—and his parents have treaded five kilometers from their
North Delhi residence to the temple.
"We set out at 5 pm and reached around 7:30," he says. After three hours in a surging, sweating line, Jain is ecstatic to finally step into the durbar.
“We had to wait very long before we entered, but it was worth the wait,” he says. “It was like magic with so many lights and colours around me. I liked it so much that I'll draw the mandir for my drawing-class assignment at school on Monday."
Spice street: Jama Masjid
It's close to midnight, but the narrow stretch leading to the main bazaar opposite Gate No. 1 of the Jama Masjid—the largest mosque in the capital, is jam-packed with people- and there's no sign the crowd will clear any time soon.
Going by history, nothing seems to have changed since 1656 —the year when the medieval mosque was completed.
Eateries—both roadside stalls and more established counterparts on either side of the road—are doing brisk business.
An occasional spat ensues as vehicles attempt to honk their way through the tide of pedestrians, rushing home with parceled delicacies from fried chicken to phirni and sevai.
The atmosphere in the main market is carnival-like; rows of bulbs enclosed in colourful, hand-made shades hang from lines presiding over the narrow breadth of the road, as hundreds shop for everything from fashionable skull caps to brightly-coloured packets of read-to-apply mehndi.
Things have pretty much remained this way for the whole month of Ramzan.
11-year-old Mohammad Subhan Attar has been by his father's side the whole month - filling in for him at their family-owned shop when ever the latter goes for namaz or home for rest.
“There is more a rush today because people are shopping for Eid,” he explains in broken English. “This is a special time for everyone; especially for me because I can't sell as well as my father. Customers are in a joyous mood and don't bother bargaining," he grins.
Durga puja: the dawn round
The streets of the capital awoke to a melody they have been accustomed to for over a century on Sunday morning.
At four am, close to 200 devotees of the Kashmeri Gate Durga Puja participated in a prabhat pheri—the dawn round—chanting bhajans along the route the puja has followed since 1912: from the Roshanpura Fountain in Chandni Chowk to Delhi Polytechnic and onwards to Chitaranjan Park.
The Kashmere Gate Durga Puja—the first Durga Puja to have been initiated in the Capital—celebrates its centenary this year.
What started as a make-shift ceremony to show reverence to their principal deity after the colonial capital of the country was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi will be a hundred years old when the pandal is set up at the Bengali Boy's School at Civil Lines on the 24th of September.
For many like Boori Dasgupta, the Kashmere Gate Puja is a shot of nostalgia,
"We used to live in Kashmere Gate before I got married a few years ago. Since I moved to Gurgaon, I've made it a point to attend the puja every year - no matter what," she said.