Durga Puja in Kolkata: Things to do for an unforgettable experience
If you’re planning a trip to Kolkata, now is the time. Every year, during Durga Puja, Bengal’s most celebrated festival, Kolkata’s streets are buzzing with laughter, festooned with dazzling light displays and elaborate pandals with exquisite idols of goddess Durga, her children -- goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati, and gods Kartikeya, Ganesha -- and Mahishasura, a demon king in Hindu mythology. No matter what part of Kolkata you’re in, you will realise the city of joy looks more enchanting during the five-day Durga Puja festival -- starting Monday, October 15 this year -- than at any other time of the year.
Durga Puja, also called Durgotsava, is not just about religion. The inimitable festival has become synonymous with the beauty of larger-than-life Durga idols, the all-night pandal hopping and the unmatched city-wide revelry. A must-visit on every avid traveller’s bucket list, the reasons to visit Kolkata during Durga Puja are many. But if you are a culture connoisseur, the festival’s collective frenzy will hold a special draw.
The word fiesta takes over Kolkata quite literally during Durga Puja. Once the rituals, such as, preparing or serving bhog or chaperoning the purohit are taken care of, the city explodes to life. While pandal-hopping, para (locality) celebrations, adda (quintessential gossip sessions) and khawadawa (food) are the key highlights, the following should not be missed either:
Here’s how Kolkata’s Durga Puja promises a delight around every corner:
While Kolkata’s public Durga Puja pandals get all the attention, the traditional ‘Bonedi Bari’ pujas in the city’s palatial old private mansions are also worth experiencing. The mansions belong to affluent aristocratic zamindar (landlord) families who have been carrying on the festivities for centuries. They’re spread out across Kolkata (as well as other major towns in West Bengal). Two of the most famous ones are Sovabazar Raj Bari and Rani Rashmoni Bari in north Kolkata. Lets Meet Up Tours runs full-day Bonedi Bari Tours to these and more. West Bengal Tourism also conducts bus tours during the celebrations.
Durga Puja commences with the invocation of the presence of goddess Durga into the idols on Mahasaptami, or the seventh day. The ritual begins early in the morning, before dawn, with the bathing of a banana tree in the Hooghly River. The banana tree is dressed like a newlywed bride (known as ‘Kola Bou’, the banana bride) in a saree, and used to transport the goddess’s energy. The best places to attend the ritual are Prinsep Ghat, Bagh Bazaar and Ahiritolaghats.
The Kumari Puja is another significant ritual that’s performed during the Durga Puja festival. During the festival, goddess Durga is worshiped in various forms. In this ritual, she’s worshipped the form of an innocent young unmarried virgin girl. This serves as reminder that the goddess and her energy are omnipresent in all beings. Belur Math in Kolkata holds an extensive program of rituals during the nine days, including a special Kumari Puja.
On the last day of Durga Puja, known as Dashami, the festivities commence with married women placing red sindoor (powder) on the idols of Goddess Durga. They then smear it on each other. In the evening, the idols are immersed in the water. One of the most popular immersion points is Babu Ghat (centrally located near Eden Garden), although you’ll be able to catch the action at any of the ghats along the river. An excellent way of seeing it is by boat ride. West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation operates special immersion boat cruises down the river.