The autumn festival dedicated to Goddess Durga remains Kolkata’s unchallenged extravaganza. It not only compliments the bonhomie among people of various communities and faiths but also showcases the true meaning of hope and charity. I am almost sure that no other festival in India generates as much goodwill as our Durga Puja.
Some hundred years ago, when my family settled down in this city, the festivities were far more modest and community pujas never really challenged the devotions offered inside private homes.
Hailing from the arid yet homely neighbourhoods of Rajasthan, my ancestors were immediately soothed by the all-encompassing and hospitable nature of Bengalis and their Durga Puja. The radio-recitation of Durga’s advent in the characteristic baritone of Birendra Krishna Bhadra piercing through the early morning hues on Mahalaya, the Shiuli flower in my mother’s garden, the Kashphool I would so often notice while travelling on highways and the typical confluence of different fragrances associated with Durga Puja left a deep impression on my five senses. That, I believe, contributed to the shaping of my creativity and sense of aesthetics over the years that followed.
Today, the mood has transformed but the spirit hasn’t changed a bit. Community veneration at pandals has taken over from private piety, thanks to corporate support and stiff competition among puja organisors. Yet, the display of creative talent and individual aptitude is phenomenal.
Whether it is the stunning idols or the decorations in the marquees that leave the crowds enthralled, the Devi leaves her indelible mark inside every heart. On these festive days, the city does not sleep. Visitors throng thousands of pandals, adding voice to the spirit of caring and sharing. Personally, I feel that Ma Durga’s visit every year reaffirms my confidence and commitment to this wonderful city that has given me a past filled with pride. And, I look forward to its future with optimism.
Harshavardhan Neotia is the chairman of Ambuja Neotia Group and president, FICCI