Bengal had been waiting for the Durga Puja, its most cherished festival, for some time. Though the weather conditions have changed much over the years resulting in changes in the characteristics of “Sharat” (autumn) from what we have read in the books and we do not really see much “kaash” flowers in the city, but somehow one can sense a change in the air when the Pujas are approaching and suddenly before anyone realizes, Mahalaya is there, knocking on the doors.
Durga Puja is the most celebrated festival of Bengal that takes place for five days in autumn. The mythology is that when the demon Mahishasura let loose a reign of terror and the gods were unable to overpower him, they prayed in unison and the energy emanated from their prayers created goddess Durga, who had supreme powers and who was entrusted with the task of defeating the demon army of Mahishasura. This has been portrayed in details in the Markendya Purana. The other myth (or should I say history) is that originally Durga Puja was performed in spring but Rama worshipped Durga in autumn before engaging in a war with Ravana (this is known as “Akaal Bodhon”) and from then the Pujas are carried out in autumn.
The artisans portray the Mahishasuramardini image of Durga in the idols they make where the goddess (sitting on a lion and with ten weapons in her ten hands) is seen to subjugate the demon Mahishasura who has come out of the trunk of a decapitated buffalo.
The goddess, who is revered as a mother and referred to as Ma Durga, is also seen with her children (Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik) by her side. According to some other purana, she is perceived as Uma, the wife of Lord Shiva. In Bengal, this representation of her is more popular over her warrior aspect and the five days of Durga Puja are believed to be the time when Ma Durga, along with her children, makes a visit to her paternal home every year.
Initially, Durga Puja was carried out in the homes of the wealthy and the affluent. But later on twelve “brahmins“ or noble men got together and performed a (“barowari”) Puja for the masses (“sarbojanin”) and the money was collected in the form of subscription. This has become the trend over the years.
Shashti was the only working day for me during the Pujas. Saptami and Ashtami were holidays and Navami and Dashami fell on weekends. Even on Shahsti, the mood at the office was far from doing serious work. People were contemplating to leave early either to pursue their own Puja plans or to avoid the mad Puja traffic. I had a lunch invitation myself at Santanu’s place near the airport and left office accordingly. The only worry was how to reach home in the evening. The Metro was one option, but then for the last few days I had been reading all sorts of news regarding the malfunctions of the Metro due to the Puja rush and may be compounded by the inauguration of so many new stations without investing in new rail rakes. Thankfully, Saibal gave me a lift in his car up to Rashbehari crossing and surprisingly it did not take us much long time like the previous evening. May be that was because, we took the Park Circus connector and not the Kasba one from the EM Bypass.
In between Rashbehari crossing and my home some distinguished Pujas take place. But anticipating they would be much crowded, I took the Pratapaditya Road where some not so famous but decent enough Pujas are located. The first one on the way was the Trikon Park which built a lovely “pandal” in the shape of a temple with marble floors and art work.
As I was walking further down, I noticed a sign on the walls of an old worn out building declaring it as a dangerous one and cautioning the people not to touch it. These kinds of notices are usually put up by the Corporation so at first I did not heed much attention to it. But after a while it looked strange, as I did not remember any such building being there and I came back to the place. Then only I realized that it was actually a Puja “pandal” that had been designed like an old “zamindar” house (the Babubagan concept from the previous year) with the interiors decorated with old world furnitures and gramophones, oil paintings and heads of stuffed hunted down animals which once adorned the supposedly declining “zamindari”. This Puja called the Chatuskon Park was a discovery this year and actually I saw long queues at its gates on the following days.
Pratapaditya Road Trikon Park
Pratapaditya Road Chatushkon Park - Sharad Sammilani
After visiting these two Pujas, I gathered some courage to try and see the more renowned ones. First on list was Mudiyali Club. It usually follows traditional theme and this time round it was not anything different. The idols of the deities or “pratima” as we say is “ekchala” i.e. with a semi-elliptical backdrop behind the images. The “pandal” or the makeshift building resembled a grand golden temple. After Mudiyali, it was the turn of Shibmandir, which is known for its innovative themes. This time the theme was something like Mother Nature, I guess. The interiors were like a forest and the “pandal” itself was like the trunk of a tree. Unfortunately, I could not take any good snap as it was much crowded. When one exits from the rear end of Shibmandir, one can make a quick visit to Sebak Sangha. This Puja is located where the road past the Menoka Cinema meets the Lake Avenue. Since my school was nearby, I have seen this Puja for many years. The “pratima” made by Mohanbasi Rudrapal is its main attraction.
Very near to my home, a nice and small Puja takes place at someone’s residence in the Charu Avenue. After resting for a while on the couches there I went to see the Nabapally Sangha Puja before returning home. This was a renowned Puja not many years ago and won some prizes as well when I was young, but has slowly faded into oblivion probably due to lack of patronage.
Charu Avenue - Barir Puja
On Saptami Ma and I ventured to see Pujas from North Calcutta in our new car. We took the Central Avenue and hoped to see the Md. Ali Park Puja. As far I could remember, the last time I saw that particular Puja was more than fifteen years back. However, it proved to be difficult to park nearby and in our quest of finding a suitable parking space, we turned left into MG Road and ultimately reached Rabindra Sarani. We let go Md. Ali Park and made our first stop at Rabindra Kanan, a Puja that takes place in a park off the Rabindra Sarani.
Continuing on Rabindra Sarani, we made our next stop near Ahiritola. Since we parked at some distance, we first had a look into the BK Pal Park Puja before proceeding to Ahiritola. The concept over there was of an underwater world with fishes and corals inside the “pandal” and the outside was like boats ferrying on the surface of the water.
Next on cards was Kumartuli. I had come to Kumartuli a week earlier to see the idols in making. Now was the time to see the finished product. The theme there was “kaal-chakra” with different sections comprising images of Rama and Krishna etc. The idol of Durga was unique with a Vasuki like snake behind her and many images resembling mime artists playing the part of Mahishasura.
I had to stop by Chhotomasi’s home to hand her over some papers related to her Mumbai trip and before going to her house we visited the Bagbazar Sarbajanin Puja. This was again a traditional Puja with Durga in “daker-saaj”. The imposing chandelier was another attraction.
The stay at Chhotomasi’s place was a brief one as she was getting ready for the flight to catch. She advised to make a stop by Hatibagan on our way back. Here, Durga did not have any weapon and the demon Mahishasura was asking for mercy with his hands folded instead of being engaged in a war with Durga.
Since we planned to take the Bypass route on our way back home, we decided to make a visit to Telengabagan. It is one of the most sought after Pujas nowadays. The idol of Durga had clay like finish and standed on a large Shivalinga. The images of her children were carved out near her feet and one had to make a round trip to see them all. The “pandal” was also built such that there was no wall around the deity and one could do a “pradakkhin” around it.
The journey home was uneventful except for the fact that we could not locate our car and driver for quite some time after we came out of Telengabagan. I reached home in the late afternoon, had a very late lunch and I took a quick nap before going out again in the evening with Subhadip who had come down to Kolkata from Lucknow to celebrate Pujas before his trimester exams.
Initially we planned to meet near Deshapriya Park, but the cab I took could not go that far since there was a no entry sign on Lake Road and I was coming from the Southern Avenue end. I got down there and went to visit Samajsebi Sangha and asked Subhadip to meet me there. The “pandal” was decorated with dolls made from clothes. A few snaps later, I went to the other Puja which is located nearby – Ballygunge Cultural. The “dhakis” (drummers) were doing a special session when I reached there. In the mean time Subhadip reached Samaj Sebi and I had to go back there and again come to see Ballygunge Cultural. We heard that Vidya Balan inaugurated the Puja this time. Soon after, we crossed Rashbehari Avenue and went on to visit the Tridhara Sammilani Puja. This is the same order in which I visited these Pujas for the last couple of years and usually Tridhara Sammilani gives tough competition to the other two though they are more famous. However, this time I did not understand their concept. It was like this bluish grid backdrop that reminds one of laser shows and there were three large idols which hardly looked like images of Durga. The funny part is that when someone inquired about the theme of the Puja, one of the organizers gave him a booklet to read to understand the theme. This is one of the examples of the over indulgence of Puja themes in recent times when more often than not, no one understands what the theme is.
We took the exit towards Hazra Road from Tridhara Sammilani to proceed towards our next destination, Maddox Square. Similar to previous year we took a wrong turn and took Manoharpukur Road to end up near the Hazra crossing end and again changed direction towards Sarat Bose Road. In between we stopped by Hazra Balak Sangha, Hazra 22 Pally and many other less known Pujas, the name I do not remember any more. Maddox Square “pratima” was again a traditional “ekchala” like the earlier years. The attraction of the Puja is its ambience and the quality of the crowd. Usually people select this Puja as the meeting place for friends. The large ground helps a lot to this cause. But for the past few years it had been raining during the Pujas and this time also I noticed patches of water and mud here and there. However, that did not restrict the youngsters from sitting down on newspapers on the very ground. Even there were newspapers available for sale for sitting purpose. It seemed that nowadays people meet here for “adda” more due to the fact that it is fashionable rather than to enjoy the charm it once provided. As a result all and sundry meet up here since everyone wants to be cool, and as a result the sophistication of the place is lost in the process.
From Maddox Square we took a cab to Sadananda Road to make an attempt to see the Badamtala Ashar Sangha Puja. This Puja again has gained a lot eminence is the last few years. I think the last time I could see this particular Puja was back when I was in school. Lately it is so crowded that I usually prefer to avoid. Fortunately for us, this time round, the crowd was not so much. The cabbie who took us there had no knowledge of the roads and I had to guide him throughout. At least I am not the only person who can not remember most of the roads. The most fascinating part of Ashar Sangha was that they have painted and decorated the surrounding buildings as well as the nearby trees and even lamp posts with colourful festoons. It took a while before we realized that those are real buildings with people living in.
Just beside Ashar Sangha, there is another well-known Puja called 66 Pally. This year they had used innumerous paper lamps and colourful umbrellas hanging upside down with lights inside that resulted in a striking effect. The other atypical thing about this Puja was that Mahishasura was on the right side of Durga and the Lion on the left side. Usually it is the other way round.
Badamtala Ashaar Sangha
On my return way, I again visited or rather accompanied Subhadip to Mudiyali and Shibmandir. Any attempt to take any photo was again futile, more because of the overzealous crowd management of the volunteers at those places rather than the actual crowd rush.
On Ashtami I go and offer “anjali” or prayers at the Balaram Bose Ghat Puja near Ma’s ancestral home. This claims to be the oldest “barowari” Puja in Kolkata and this was its 101st year. Starting from its centenary year, it has started to build a big gate at the front and other adornments on the walls. Earlier, it used to be a simple and placid affair.
After the “anjali” and a quick visit to the Avaya Mandir, which is adjacent to the Puja and houses a permanent idol of Durga, we dashed off to visit a few other renowned Pujas of Bhowanipore. Of course we did not forget to buy the customary “khasta kachuris” from “goopi’s”, a small confectionary shop on Balaram Bose Ghat Road. The Pujas we payed a visit to, were Harish Park, 68 Pally, Bakulbagan, Golmath and Abasar, in that order. On our way Ma and Boromasi showed me the ancestral house of Uttam Kumar on Girish Mukherjee Road. Thirty years after his death, he still remains the only superstar from Bengal. May be Prasenjit will catch up to him some day. Bakulbagan usually portrays obscure images of Durga, but this year it broke all earlier records. According to the billboards, the theme and idol had been conceptualized by Mamata Banerjee. May be she is trying to beat the chief minister on the cultural front as well.
Bhowanipore Adi Sanatani Dharmatsahini Sabha (Balaram Bose Ghat)
From Bhowanipore we went to Ballygunge to pay a visit to Pishimani’s house. Pishemoshai was not keeping well for the last few days. On our way home we stopped by Adi Ballygunge and 21 Pally. I think the last time Ma took me to Adi Ballygunge was when I was a little boy. There were ethnic paintings on the walls of the “pandal” depicting scenes from the stories of Durga.
On Nabami, we decided to visit the remaining prominent Pujas in South Calcutta. We started off with Sanghasree near Kalighat. This was a famous Puja in the bygone days but lost its charm over the years probably because of lack of funds. This year however, the Puja was gorgeous. Different manifestations of Durga were depicted.
From there we went on to see the Deshapriya Park Puja. We entered from the Priya Cinema end which is generally reserved for VIPs and members but no one objected since it was during daytime.
Next on list was the Singhee Park Puja. It had built its “pandal” as a replica of the Golden Temple of Amritsar. It was exciting as I was scheduled to visit the real temple during my vacation after the Pujas.
Just opposite to Singhee Park is the illustrious Ekdalia Evergreen Puja which receives the patronage of trade union leader Subrata Mukherjee. By the way, he is again back in the Trinamool Congress from Congress. Not sure how many times he switched sides. The chandelier at Ekdalia is one of its great attractions apart from the electrical lighting. Since it was during the day, we could not enjoy the light works but the chandelier did not disappoint us.
Driving through Gariahat Road, we left our car near Babubagan. There was a huge traffic jam near Babubagan right in the afternoon and a queue as well at its gates. I think Durga and the others were depicted as tribal people. The “pandal” however was made of circuit boards and computer key boards etc. So I am not very sure about the correlation of the two.
Ma and I wandered around for some time before we could locate the Selimpur Pally Puja. It used intermingled pieces of woods as the “pandal”. If I remember correctly it was according to some sort of art work names “sajhi”. I was wondering how they would protect the “pratima” during the rains.
We crossed Gariahat Road and went to see the Jodhpur Park Puja. The “pandal” was built with colourful blocks similar to what kids play with.
Since we would board the car again from Prince Anwar Shah Road, we made a brief stop at the Taltala EDF Ground Puja which is named as Pallimangal Samiti. The theme was the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. Imitations of his paintings adorned the walls of the “pandal”. There was a statue of him at the front and the “pandal” itself was a replica of one his houses at Shantiniketan (Shyamali – if I remember correctly).
Pallimangal Samiti (Taltala EDF)
It proved to be too much walking for Ma from Babubagan to EDF, as her knees gave away to the arthritic pain. Thankfully she got enough rest at Runa’s house which was our next destination. The housing society that Runa stays at started its own Durga Puja from this year and even won some prizes and recognitions. Here also the theme was Rabindranath or specifically his “Sahaj Path”. We had our lunch there and accompanied Runa and Rishi to the Mudiyali and Shibmandir Pujas. This was the third time I visited these couple of Pujas and finally I could take some snaps.
Runa's Housing Soceity
At last I visited the Puja which takes place in the “para” or neighbourhood just beside our house.
Bijoya Dashami was the last day of the five days of Durga Puja. I had no plans for that day and spent the entire day at home and helped myself with sweets ignoring all the fears of weight I was putting up in the process. The mood around was pensive and that of melancholy since it is believed that Ma Durga returns to her husband’s home from her paternal home on this day. This day also marks the beginning of the wait for next year’s Durga Puja. Hope it will be as joyous and blissful as this year’s was.