Experiencing one of the most illustrious festivals of India, Durga Puja is something that every avid traveller looks forward to. And indeed! The craze has already set in motion for the 2018 celebration
Words: Subhasish Chakraborty
Durga Puja in Kolkata is a massive occasion for not just Bengalis. Increasingly and with ever-growing velocity surrounding the puja, this one-of-its-kind festival has left an indelible imprint in the hearts and minds of the global community. No wonder, there will always be a sizeable number of foreign tourists descending on Kolkata just days ahead of this grand celebration.
Kolkata explodes with joy de vivre at this time and why not? Close to a thousand pandals are erected and decorated with diverse themes, all depicting the infinite aura of Goddess Durga and millions of pandal-hoppers touchdown in Kolkata, making it one of the largest festivals in the world.
Kumartuli Park: This is one of Kolkata’s most outstanding Durga Puja pandals. Located in North Kolkata in close proximity to the Sovabazar Ferry, the Kumartuli Park puja has been at the forefront when it comes to showcasing fusion art. This prestigious pandal will be celebrating its 23rd year this time. Kumartuli Park is set on the backdrop of Kolkata’s most cultured corridor, which has been the residence of renowned artisans for several centuries. As you make your way across the narrow lanes, you will come across colonies of artisans that for generations together have eked out a living by carving idols of Indian gods and goddesses.
Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja: Stepping into its 73rd year, this pandal has carved a niche for itself with its brand of innovations. Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja owes its origin to its dynamic founder Shri. Lakhi Chand Jaiswal. Way back in 1943, this visionary merchant conceived of celebrating Durga Puja in his own backyard. Over the decades, this Puja pandal has gone from strength to strength and has positioned itself as one of Kolkata’s most impressive pandals. The most talked about themes here are the dhak (drumming) contest, dhunuchi nach (dancing with an Indian incense burner) and sindoor khela (playing with vermilion).
Bagbazaar Sarbojonin Durgotsav: Bagbazaar happens to be Kolkata’s spiritual hub and Bagbazaar Sarbojonin Durgotsav is easily one of Kolkata’s oldest pandals. In the days of yore, this puja used to be celebrated in the outer precincts of the local zamindar’s residence. The pandal is now erected in close proximity to the Bagbazaar Launch Ferry Ghat. The distinctive feature that separates this pandal from the rest is its singular focus on Bengal’s rich past. Exclusive dance events that reflect Bengal’s culture are the highpoint of this rather distinctive pandal.
Ekdalia Evergreen Durga Puja Club:
Ekdalia Evergreen, located strategically at Gariahat, has been an out and out favourite with puja aficionados, largely due to its patronage towards Kolkata’s artistic heritage. Every year, this pandal showcases India’s age-old temple architecture. Ekdalia is synonymous with avant-garde lighting arrangement and elegantly designed interiors.
Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Durgotsav: When it comes to family patronised Durga Puja, the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Durgotsav is easily one of the best managed. Dating back to 1610, this puja owes its origin to Lakshmikanta Ray Mazumdar. An integral part of Sabarna Roy Chowdhury’s puja is its majestic rituals honouring the goddess. The antique wooden scaffold of Durga is carefully preserved, as are the priceless chalchitras that offer a truly majestic backdrop to the idols. Try to be there or the immersion at Babu Ghat, which is every bit splendid.
College Square Sarbojanin Durgotsav: College Square Sarbojanin Durgotsav has been in existence for more than half a century. While the decor is inspiring, the lighting display is innovative and has drawn rave reviews from all over the world. The pool, on the centre of College Square, offers a surreal sight with the light rays illuminating the water body.
Visiting Kolkata during Durga Puja is treat for the eyes and the 2018 edition will be just that. Already, plans are afoot to showcase Deepika Padukone’s Padmaavat and you should not be surprised if you come across a perfect replica of the magnificent Chittorgarh Fort of Rajasthan while pandal hopping in Kolkata’s upmarket Salt Lake area. Sreebhumi Sporting Club, which is celebrating its 46th year, plans to recreate not just the majestic fort but also the costume and other paraphernalia that went into the film’s making.
This year’s puja fervour will transcend to an altogether different level with a perceptible Chinese essence as well. The Chinese Consulate in Kolkata in collaboration with BJ Block Sarodtsav Committee, will highlight the customs and traditions of China’s Yunnan Province. The pandal in all likelihood, will be designed in the form of a hulu (Chinese bottle gourd), which is believed to promote happiness and prosperity. The very best of ancient China’s art, music, dance and food will be on display at the venue of this year’s celebration.
Kumartuli-Where the Goddess Comes Alive
Goddess Durga is the epitome of beauty. As a traveller and a proud Bengali, I have often wondered, how come the idols are so beautiful and so gorgeous? Who is behind such tremendously intricate art? Where do they live? What materials do they use to craft such divine works of art year after year? These questions kept me intrigued, until I decided to take a walk down the alleyways of Kumartuli.
The karigars or artists of Kumartuli use raw clay as the primary ingredient to craft idols. They are a close-knit community and take immense pride in their profession. Try to enter their workshop spaces and even better if you strike up a conversation. If language is a barrier, hire a guide from the West Bengal Tourism Department.
Witnessing the process of idol-making at Kumartuli is an introduction to ancient Indian artistic ethos here. Karigars here begin their sculpting after performing the holy “Garanlkathamo Puja” which incidentally coincides with the day of Rath Yatra. The thousand-year-old puja rituals blaze the modern inquisitive mind and the devotion that is inherent in the minds of the karigars is truly a humble experience.
Kolkatans are die-hard foodies and to set the culinary temperatures soaring in the City of Joy. Dashabhuja, one of Kolkata’s best known culinary brands, is all set to open an exclusive Durga Puja-themed restaurant at its eatery at the third floor of the Old Court House Corner building. The menu will consist of traditional Bengali treats starting with Puja Bhog (khichdi and labra) and gradually expanding to a truly sumptuous spread of mutton curry, luchis, chanar paturi, rice and payesh.
Getting to kumartuli
Hire a taxi. Pre-paid taxis are readily available in Kolkata, and the fare might hover around `140 to `200. If you choose public transport, there are buses and trains that connect to Kumartuli. The nearest metro station is Sovabazar. Sovabazar Ghat (Jetty) is located in close proximity to Kumartuli and you would do well to embark on a leisurely walk by the riverside and bask in the architectural glory of Kolkata’s Gothic and Victorian style mansions. A short boat ride will take you to Kolkata Central.