5 Reasons why Bengal’s Durga Puja is Unique
As I was taking stock of the content on my blog I realized that there is absolutely nothing about my roots here, nothing about Bengal, Kolkata and Bengali culture that makes my core. So I decided to use the opportunity given by #MyFriendAlexa to begin a new series from Backpack & Explore – “ExperienceBengal”, and what else to begin it with but Bengal’s biggest cultural extravaganza and one of the world’s largest carnival of Art– Durga Puja. Fun, family- union and celebrations are the common theme of festivals all across the world, but each festival is also unique in their own way. So let me delve into the memories of my childhood and the essence of my adulthood to explore the most distinctive aspects of this serendipity.
Women in white-red Saris putting Sindur on one another and people dancing to the beats of Dhaaki while carrying earthen-pot filled with burning coconut husk in both hands – this is what comes to the mind when you think of Durga Puja, beyond what is widely known through cinematic depictions #PujoIsComing
Before that just a quick background, especially for my international readers.
What is Durga Puja?
Simply put, Durga Puja is a Hindu festival of worshipping Goddess Durga – the Mother of Mortals and the Destroyer of the Evil. She symbolizes the power of a woman, a mother who is often looked upon only as a nurturer. Yes, Maa Durga (Mother Durga as we call her) is a nurturer but She is also a Warrior and a fierce Protector. She lives with Her family and comes to the earth to meet Her mortal children every year during the fall. This is when Bengal gears up to wish her with the blue autumnal sky, white clouds floating like cotton balls in the air, vast stretches of land covered in white ‘Kash’ flowers and fragrance of ‘Shiuli’ all around. This also stems from the mythological story according to which the Goddess was actually born in the earth and she left her parents to settle in Kailash after her marriage. Just to clarify that this is the version of the story that is accepted in Bengal and as a part of the Bengali culture. The actual religious context of Durga Puja also celebrated as “Navaratri” in other parts of India is different. And that is what brings us to the first point on our list.
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# 1 The Story of Durga Puja and real-world symbolism
The Goddess has ten hands, which is also symbolic of the multi-tasking ability of women all over the world. The symbolism is not too spiritual or religious, rather universal feelings that people connect with irrespective of their religion.
Meet Ma Durga (in the middle), Her four immortal children (from left)- Ganesha with His pet mouse, Laxmi with Her owl, Saraswati with Her swan, and Kartik with His peacock. Also, meet Her pet Lion and the Evil Mahishasur whom she killed to protect the mortals
#2 The Books and ….. the Cartoons (??!!)
Okay, so far so good, but what about cartoons? What kind of religious people like to draw cartoons of their Gods? Well, we do! We love Ma Durga, and we love to see Her as our own mother, Her family as that of our own, we love to personify the Deity. Our Goddess loves to be a part of our lives and she is never offended by the display of affection through Art.
Goddess on a family cruise vacation- Mother in quintessential Bengali saree is reading a newspaper, Karthik taking a selfie, talented Saraswati with her Guitar, Laxmi enjoying nature and Ganesha is up to some mischief
|Goddess Durga and her family just got a Disney Makeover!! I love how Ganesha’s pet mouse became Mickey and Saraswati’s pet swan became Uncle Donald! The Lion King is my favorite though!|
|Goddess Durga’s children busy helping their Mom get ready!|
|Ma Durga with her Band of Boys and Girls – this is called good parenting!|
# 3 The Mahalaya ritual
# 4 The Pandals and the creative extravaganza
|White Temple of Thailand at Deshopriyo Park Durga Puja, Kolkata (Sourced via Vagabomb)|
A temporary Buckingham Palace built for the Goddess to stay in Her vacation at Sealdah (Source: BBC News)
Devi Durga imagined as the Goddess of forests and nature – these are often based on the theme of the pandal
#5 The Night Life
The entire city of Kolkata comes alive at night during Durga Puja. With an average footfall of 2-3 lakhs in each of the prominent pandal every single day of the 5-day event (which easily extends to 7-days every year), it is easy to forget the time when you are out in the streets during Durga puja. People are out in the streets not for some religious procession but for pandal-hopping, meeting old friends and families and chatting all night at Maddox square. This is not the nightlife of clubbing and dancing, this is a unique kind of nightlife that has been in place for decades now.
#6 The Big Pujo Question
Like most Kolkata people, I applied for my leaves and booked my tickets way in advance because I Pujo cannot be missed. What is your favorite festival and what’s unique about it? Share with me in the comments!! If you like this subscribe to the blog to follow my journey to explore life through travel. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for some daily dose of inspiration.
Theme Lighting all over the city during Durga Puja – in every prominent street and even the streets you never knew existed.