Durga Puja Festival in West Bengal
India is a land of fairs and festivals. Here, people celebrate a lot of occasions throughout the year, out of which some are seasonal and others are national. People also celebrate religious fairs and festivals with great fervor. One such elaborately celebrated festival is Durga Puja. Though it is the biggest and most widely celebrated festival in East India, the major celebrations take place in Kolkata (Calcutta), the capital city of West Bengal.
What is Durga Puja?
Counted amongst the most popular festivals in India, Durga Puja Festival is the greatest festival of the Bengali community. It is an annual festival celebrated in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Tripura, Odisha and other parts of East India. It is a five-day festival dedicated to Goddess Durga. The festival is the most important one for Bengali people as they hold Goddess Durga in high regard. It is believed that the revered warrior Goddess Durga defeated the powerful buffalo demon, Mahishasura. The festival epitomizes the triumph of good over evil. The festival also glorifies the dominant female force (Shakti) in Universe. The dates of Durga Puja Festival coincide with Dussehra Festival, which is observed by other sects of Hinduism. Moreover, the festival is identified by different names in different parts of the country. Sharadiya Pujo, Durga Pujo, Sharadotsab, Maha Pujo, etc. are the names used to refer to Durga Puja Festival. Apart from East India, it is known as Dussehra in Gujarat, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra. People know this festival as Kullu Dussehra in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, Mysore Dussehra in Mysore, Bommai Golu in Tamil Nadu, etc. Despite the variations in names, the idea of celebrating the festival remains the same. People celebrate this festival with great pomp and show.
When is Durga Puja celebrated?
Durga Puja is celebrated in the seventh Hindu month of Ashwin, which usually falls in the month of September or October as per the Gregorian calendar. Traditionally, the festival is observed for 10 days but the major highlights of the festival are the last 5 days, i.e. Shasthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami, and Vijaya Dashami. In 2019, the Durga Puja Festival will be celebrated from October 4 to October 8, 2019.
Where is Durga Puja celebrated?
The hub of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata in West Bengal. But it is celebrated with an equal amount of enthusiasm in other parts of East India like Assam, Tripura, Bihar, and Odisha. It is also celebrated in other parts of the country like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, etc. Expatriates belonging to minority Hindu and Bengali community settled in other parts of the world also observe celebrations on the occasion of Durga Puja. The countries where this festival is celebrated include Bangladesh, Nepal (Dashain), China, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, USA, and several parts of Europe.
How is Durga Puja celebrated?
The way in which the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated is quite similar to that of Ganesh Chaturthi Festival. People in Kolkata start preparing 7 days prior to the festival. The town appears lively and full of colorful clothes, decor items, etc. People get dressed in new and bright colored clothes for the festival. Though the preparations start quite early to the festival, major rituals take place starting from the day of Mahalaya when the eyes of the idols of Goddess Durga are painted. This ritual is known as Chokkhu Daan in the local context. It is often said that the goddess descends on the earth at the time of this ritual.
On the first day of Durga Puja (Shasthi), the beautifully painted idols of Goddess Durga are brought into homes or pandals. Then, they are embellished with flowers, clothes, red vermilion, jewelry, etc. Sweets are also kept in front of the idol as an offering. The idols of Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva are also kept on the stage.
On the following day (Maha Saptami), a small banana plant known as Kala Bou is carried away to a river for a bath and is dressed in a bright red colored saree. Then it is brought back in a procession to be established near the idol of Goddess Durga. It is done to invoke the presence of the Goddess Durga into the idol. The ritual is called Pran Pratisthan. People perform rituals and prayers (puja) for the remaining duration of the festival. Several types of cultural activities also take place. People unify to sing traditional songs, dance and perform plays. During the following days, the goddess is worshipped in her different forms – Kumari (goddess of fertility), Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother) and Lakshmi (goddess of wealth).
On the final day of Durga Puja (Vijaya Dashami), the idols of Goddess Durga are worshipped and made offerings to. Devotees gather in large numbers to bid farewell to the goddess. People perform a farewell ceremony, i.e. Aarti on the last day. Afterward, the idols are carried away to the water bodies in an elaborate street procession, in which people sing and dance. The procession is initiated by women, especially married ones, who smear red vermilion on the idol of the goddess and later to other ladies of the group. It is believed to symbolize fertility and marriage. Later on, the idols of the Goddess Durga are immersed in water. It is said that Goddess Durga gained victory over the buffalo devil on this day and established peace in the world. People pray to the goddess for bringing peace and happiness to their lives and bid adieu to her. It is believed that the goddess returns to her home with her husband Lord Shiva. On the occasion of Durga Puja, people distribute gifts and sweets among their friends and relatives.
What are the highlights of Durga Puja?
- Several pandals are decorated varying as per themes and cultures. People dressed in new and bright clothes go for pandal hopping and enjoy the exciting festival of Durga Puja. Pandals are designed by artisans and craftsmen with intricacy. The way in which the concepts are turned to reality in the form of artwork in pandals seems unparalleled.
- All schools, colleges, offices, etc. remain closed on the occasion of Durga Puja. Many companies provide gifts to their employees and customers.
- People also throng the markets as, Durga Puja Festival in West Bengal during this period, all shops give away special discounts on a variety of items.
- During the festival of Durga Puja, one can savor a variety of Bengali dishes. Some of the popular dishes that you can enjoy during pandal hopping are a roll, momo, puchka (Bengali version of Pani Puri), dosa, chow mein, etc.
- The entire town of Kolkata gets illuminated during the festival. Several artworks are created using different types of lights. The lightings and paintings together make the entire city of Kolkata appealing and bustling.
What are the other things to do in West Bengal?
- Admire the exceptional architectural style of Victoria Memorial Palace
- Enjoy the spectacular views from Durpin Dara Hill
- Acknowledge the iconic cricket stadium – Eden Garden
- Shop in the lanes of Seth Srilal Market
- Enjoy a boat ride in the evening at Princep Ghat
- Visit the Dutch Cemetery in Chinsurah
- Feed your adventurous soul with water sports like river rafting, snorkeling, etc. in Kolkata
- Pay a visit to the finest example of colonial architecture – Morgan House
- Enjoy a trekking trip to Sandakphu with friends and family
- Spot a variety of birds at Sagar Dighi
How to reach West Bengal?
- By Air – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is well-connected to several major cities of the country and the world.
- By Road – West Bengal shares good road connectivity with nearby states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, etc.
- By Train – Howrah Railway Station and Sealdah Railway Station are located in Kolkata and are well-connected to other railway heads in the country.
You must be excited enough to experience it all. If you wish to partake in the festivities of Durga Puja, take the Durga Puja Festival Tour and enjoy the local culture and cuisine of West Bengal. It will be definitely an extraordinary experience for you to participate in the celebrations in the company of the locals.