No sooner do the monsoon clouds roll away, that Bengalis across all lands begin preparations for the highlight of their cultural and social calendar: the Durga Puja festivities. And nowhere is the fervour as evident and passions as high as those in Kolkata.
Most idols of the Goddess and her family take shape in the narrow winding streets of Kumartuli – a traditional potters’ neighbourhood in the older parts of the city.
While they give form and life to the clay idols, an equal amount of effort is put into the pandals – the temporary structures that house the Goddess across the Puja days. From community pujas that aim to outdo each other with their pomp and gaiety and compete for the most number of footfalls, to private household pujas that are a stickler for tradition – the many hundreds of pujas bring the city to a standstill.
This is that part of the year when Kolkata transforms itself into one large party; crowds engage in a night-long affair termed as ‘pandal hopping’. There are pujas to be checked out, queues to be braved and street food to be sampled.
Aiding the frenzy are maps that locate pujas in popular neighbourhoods and Android apps that let one choose pandals based on visitors’ ratings. The festivities conclude with immersion rituals on the tenth day, only to have the ardent Bengali wonder when Ma would return again.
Text And Photos By Kunal Bhatia