Only 10 reasons to visit Kolkata during Durga Puja is just not enough. The city is an epitome of an epic carnival during Durga Puja. The madness is quintessential Kolkatan which is inarguably nowhere else to be found on any other countries of the world. The craziness, the crowd, the pandals, immense variety of theme pujas, the cultural cocktail of traditional vs modernity, talented artistry at display, the irresistible food, and most importantly the irrepressible spirit of a typical Kolkatan during the five days of intense celebration of the goddess Durga is simply matchless.
Top 10 reasons to visit Kolkata, the city of joy, during Durga Puja:
1. Pandal hopping during Durga Puja
Pandal hopping remains an eternal favourite of Kolkatans during the five day carnival. Groups of school or college kids, romantic couples, families or tourists find immense joie de vivre in pandal hopping. Shubhobroto Ghosh, author of the book ‘Dreaming in Calcutta and Channel Islands’ talks to this blogger saying: “The real essence of being a Bengali is captured in this four day festival. Whether you believe in religion or not, the very spirit of the city comes alive with the decorations and the sweetness of different idols. Of course, the nature of Durga Puja has changed over time and today’s Puja is as much about socializing and having fun as it is about bowing to the Mother Goddess.”
Anirban Rudra, an advertising professional from Kolkata tells this author: “Pandal hopping remains one of my favourite past time during the pujas. I love to get drenched in the crowd with friends and relatives and obviously no time bar applies during the pujas. Another reason is unlimited adda with friends. Friends coming over, sharing a drink, reliving some old days and some fun memories. Night long adda at Madox Square or Deshapriya Park with excellent cultural programme is spending my kind of puja. Anjali on Astami and obviously checking out the best decked ladies during the evening also remains one of the USPs of Durga Puja.”
Another Kolkatan, Jhelum Banerjee, a marketing communications professional in the hospitality sector had an interesting perspective. She says: “Pandal hopping during Durga Puja connects different aspects of philosophy of art and culture through a walk. The roads, the structure, the area showcases different moods of City of Joy! It’s great to be a part of this huge mass movement”.
2. Theme Puja
Theme Pujas are a quintessential part of the celebrations in Kolkata. Supreeta Singh, a communications and public relations professional in the hospitality sector shares her thoughts: “Durga Puja and Kolkata are synonymous. Come October, and the City of Joy transforms into a beautiful and magical place where Durga Puja festive spirit meets community bonding creating space for love, joy and happiness. Kolkata is a must visit during this time because more than religion, it becomes an autumnal carnival where people from all class, creed and background who forget their differences to bask in the glory of the goddess. The sheer creativity at display with so many theme pandals adds to the charm.”
Jhelum has an uncanny way of putting it though: “Theme Pujas are an advanced version of abstract art. It’s more of attracting a mix of visitors.”
3. Watch a mix of Modernity vs Traditional during Durga Puja
The best of modern Kolkatan competes with the old and the traditional during this epic carnival. Snazzy restaurants, malls, adventure, shopping happens in confluence with continuous worship of the goddess Durga. There are some old pujas in some areas which happens with a touch of traditional elegance.
Shubhobroto, author, says: “It is also one occasion when the whole city forgets the differences that plague different sectors of society during the whole year. With the blending of tradition with modernity and the plethora of street food that becomes available alongside different entertainment options, Durga Puja defines Bengal and India for the melting pot of cultures that it is.”
Jhelum says: “I personally do not like fusion food; however at times, the installation creativity is wonderful and fascinating. I would always love to feel the true spirit of Pujo, keeping abstract theme mellowed down. Traditional idol or set up takes me to a nostalgic ride.”
4. Foodies delight: Battle of the Street Food in Kolkata
Kolkata is a foodies paradise and especially during the pujas, the city bursts with irrepressible energy onto the streets, gulping down Puchhkas, Chat, Moghlai, Egg Rolls and Chowmien. It’s not difficult to see long queues outside roadside eateries and restaurants. One also has to wait for long hours to get his or her favorite Puchhkas outside the pandals. “Eating out, adda, shopping and falling in romance during Pujas complete the circle,” says Supreeta.
“Kolkata changes into an eating house during the pujas. Let alone the eateries or the restaurants, every damn street in Kolkata transforms into an eatery. And what not they offer. An ideal time for a foodie like me,” says Anirban.
Jhelum adds: “Oh! Puja is also a Food festival…Mainly all those quick, easy, road side types. However at our hotel, Hyatt Regency, we craft special menus to cater to guest wishes for authentic cuisine from the kitchen of Bengal. The theme, the pandals can eventually marry or vanish, but Puja without food and temporary food zones in the roads are here till we celebrate the festival. And trust me during post midnight it feels crazy to try out all these forbidden food as part of celebration; it is worth trying! A ready example, kids are allowed to have ice creams or phuchhka in the midnight with family members.”
5. Amazing crowd at its best
The crowd’s energy during Durga Puja is simply matchless. The immense burst of energy out on to the streets is infectious. Jhelum says: “It’s such a wonderful experience provided you love people, crowd and watch stories of different moods of human being.”
The city comes alive during the carnival. Anirban says: “Yes, the streets may be full but hardly will you find any one disturbed during the pujas. If you have to see Kolkata in full bloom, come to the city during Pujas.”
“It is also an occasion for people to come together from different parts of the country, even the world for a time when the principal theme is happiness for all and good will for everyone. Like all festivals Durga Puja has evolved but the spirit remains the same as it always has been,” observes Shubhobroto, the author of the book ‘Dreaming in Calcutta and Channel Islands’.
6. Maddening traffic
The traffic get can crazy. Pandals built on the roads, long barricaded queues, people thronging on to the streets will ensure that your car moves at a snail’s pace, literally. If you are up for catching a flight or train, keep an extra hour or two to manoeuvre through the traffic. Kolkata Traffic Police does it best to coordinate this maddening traffic. “Traffic may be the worst part of the entire process. However each year, localities, government try to maintain this in the best possible way. The flow of the traffic at times is managed well, but it’s a bit contradictory term itself. With the maddening crowd, it is not possible to control traffic jam; thus at times we avoid pandal hopping,” Jhelum says.
7. Amazing Street Lights and Night long fun
When it comes to the pandal hopping Kolkatan, he or she would be found sitting inside their para pandal for hours after the midnight. You may also find them hopping over from one pandal to the other on their cars. And yes, there’s no stopping them from their parents. During the pujas, there’s no holding them back from taking a deep-dive into the night long celebrations. Jhelum says: “Pandal hopping is crazy stuff….Over the years the group has thinned but the charm is intact! Even if one misses idols, the adda over a cup of tea is inevitable. The added advantage is that young people are allowed to have fun, at late nights.”
8. Resident pujas
There’s an understated elegance about resident pujas in Kolkata and its nearby cities. Even near the city’s huge growth centres, there are areas which keep celebrating traditional pujas. “Though I am yet to experience much of this kind of celebration but in a little way whenever I have been able to participate I have been watching the rituals, family bonding and unity,” adds Jhelum.
9. Celebrities and contest
There is no dearth of celebrities and contests happening in the city during Durga Puja. Kolkata’s own film industry celebs come over to participate in this carnival together rubbing shoulder to shoulder and playing Dhaaks with the common Kolkatan. Mostly, the city celebs would be seen inaugurating Pujas or hosting some contest or the other. Jhelum makes this point: “When we were kids I don’t remember this format of marketing Durga Puja. Well now, this is a format of promotion and invitation for the viewers. It creates an additional pull factor for each pandal. Contests give that thrust to the organisers to create something new and innovative. However, personally I feel the main charm and happiness of Durga Puja is in the idol, Anjali and taking a back seat in this process”.
Well one of the most charming and emotional reason why you should visit Kolkata and stay till the end is for Dashami. This is the day when there the goddess is immersed into the Ganges. There’s more to it. This day, the married ladies in the house come over to their para pandals and play Shindur Khela. “I connect with a sense of nostalgia. Family meets, the younger generation pay respects with Bijaya and pronaam…At the same time it’s the immersion hour, which is sad but with a hope of coming back next year.
The finale night where the puja story ends keeping a promise; an ideal situation that can be aptly described through a wonderful phrase in Bengali ‘Shesh hoyeo hoilo na Shesh’ (It ended, but not totally)!”, sums up Jhelum.
“Dashami is sad, not only for me but for every bong because we have to wait for another year for ushering Maa Durga,” signs off Anirban.