6 October 2016

The Beauty of Durga Puja


The beauty of Durga Puja starts much before the festival itself. The beauty lies in the anticipation of the coming festival. The beauty lies in the smell of chhatim and shiuli in the air. The beauty lies when the sky gets coloured with an unique shade of blue. The beauty lies when cotton like clouds start floating in the sky. The beauty lies when you first see the new Pujabarshikis hitting the news-stands. The beauty lies in the moment when the pandals start getting erected throughout the city. The beauty lies when the first group of young boys come to your doorstep asking for puja chanda/donations. The beauty lies at 4 a.m. on Mahalaya. The beauty lies in going to Kumortulli on Mahalaya morning and witnessing Chokkhu-Daan and clicking pictures there and later posting them of Facebook. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the eyes of little children who go for pandal hopping with their parents. The joy these little angels feel when they see a Mickey Mouse or a Donald Duck in a puja pandal or when they see a mechanical dinosaur puffing fire from its mouth is priceless. The children experience a sense of awe and amazement in all the decorations all around the city. 

The children are also counting the number of puja pandals that they are visiting because when school reopens after the puja vacations then they will have to compare their figures with their friends. They indulge in an invisible competition with their friends and who ever has visited the most number of pandals wins this competition.

Sometimes the parents dress their little boys in panjabi-dhotis and their little girls in sarees. They look so cute in them. Sometimes they run around in puja pandals in these panjabi-dhotis and sarees and it is such a sweet sight. At night when they go for pandal hopping with their parents, they love to see all the bright decorative lights all around the city. They love to see their favourite cartoon characters becoming alive in these lights and illuminations throughout the city. These days the kids love to see Doraemon and Chhota Bheem everywhere. 

The children also love to eat outside at the puja pandals. They love to eat egg/chicken/mutton rolls, chowmein, papri-chats, cotton-candy, ice-creams etc. and love to drink soft-drinks and fruit juices. During Durga Puja the children love to eat lunch and dinner outside. They don't want to eat at home. They love to eat at restaurants. Even street food is fine with them. Women also don't feel like cooking at home during Durga Puja. These days we all visit restaurants and our initial intention is to click pictures of the food and put up Facebook updates. 

When I was a child, I loved seeing all the Chandernagore styled lightings all around the city. We used to go for pandal hopping in our Ambassador car at night. I always used to sit in the front seat. I loved sitting in the front seat. As far as I remember, it never rained during Durga Puja in my childhood days. Infact around late night and dawn I used to feel a bit cold. My mom used to keep a jacket or sweater in our car just in case if I needed it. In 1998 we all went to see the Titanic pandal at FD Block Salt Lake. Our family and all our relatives went together. We all went there in four cars. I really loved that drive to Salt Lake and back. In my childhood days Durga Puja also meant not studying at all and watching Chhuti-Chhuti on bangla Doordarshan. And I also loved bursting those cap-pistols. As a child I used to feel like a Texan cowboy or even Gun-Master G9. And I hated those irritating loud bhepus and whistles and I still do. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the eyes of teenagers who are going for pandal hopping for the first time with their friends. They enjoy complete freedom for the first time. No parents or elder relatives are allowed. The boys go out in their groups and the girls go out in theirs. The girls are probably wearing sarees and are finding it a bit difficult to walk in them. The boys are wearing their new clothes. The boys generally wear western outfits but they wear panjabis on Ashtami. There is an unwritten rule somewhere for boys to wear panjabis on Ashtami. They all go for pandal hopping and eat outside food.

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in that nano-second when the eyes of a teenage boy meet the eyes of a teenage girl for the first time. Nothing happens further but an entire romantic balled gets composed in that nano-second. And that teenage boy becomes a hero in the eyes of his male friends when he actually shows the courage to walk up to a girl and talk to her confidently. And that girl feels like a heroine in the eyes of her female friends and the fact that a boy has tried to come up to her and had tried to talk to her gives a huge boost to her ego and self esteem. 

When I was around sixteen or seventeen years old, I once went to a puja pandal in our neighbourhood in the evening and there I saw a very beautiful girl in a pink saree. She had long hair and it was flowing down her back. She looked like she was around my age only. She was there with her two friends. I just kept on stealing glances at her. Unfortunately I could not gather the courage to go up to her and talk to her. I don't think she noticed me at all. After some time she left the pandal with her friends and I just stood there like a smitten dumb fool. After that day I never saw her again in our locality. Around eighteen years have passed since then but I still remember her face clearly. It seems as if it was only yesterday. The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that once you see an angelic face in a puja pandal then that face will be embedded in your brain for the rest of your life. 

Fourteen years back I had spent Durga Puja with my first girlfriend at Maddox Square. It was such a divine pleasure to hold her hand and walk throughout Maddox and eat fuchkas, papri-chats, cotton-candy etc. There were a lot of children at Maddox and we both used to salivate at cute babies. It was so nice to spend all those hours with her. She used to wear a saree and I used to wear a panjabi. I used to meet her around noon and spend the entire day with her. Most probably on Ashtami I met her and she was wearing a blue saree and was looking very beautiful. I however forgot to mention to her that she was looking very beautiful. Our conversation went somewhat like this:

She : Ek baar-o bolley naa aamakey kemon dekhachhey...

Me : Shona, You are looking like the most beautiful girl in this universe... 

She : Naaaa, ekhon aar bolley hobey naa...

Me : Shona, I love you naaaa...

She : Naaaa, I know you don't love me anymore... I hate you... I hate you very much...

We used to have our little meaningless fights and quarrels during Durga Puja, but always ended up loving each other back and ended up whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears and ended up coochie-cooing openly in a public place. The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that today I feel like travelling back in time to the 2002 Durga Puja at Maddox Square.

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in shopping which generally starts around Vishwakarma Puja. Even in this age of online shopping, people flock to places like Gariahat and Esplanade to buy that killer outfit. Haggling with shop-keepers is an art which bengali women have mastered over the years and over generations. There is no fun in online shopping for Durga Puja. The real fun lies in visiting a number of shops before finally buying something. I really love all these buying and selling activities all around. Throughout the year many times I have seen shop-keepers at Gariahat or Esplanade sitting at their shops with blank empty depressed faces on days when they did not even receive a single customer. On those days I really feel sorry for them.  

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in pandal-hopping, going from one pandal to another with unbridled enthusiasm. People who are single or romantically challenged hope against hope to bump into their soulmates in these pandal-hopping sessions. And if they can't find their soulmates any where else then they atleast hope to find them at Maddox Square. Pandal-hopping can lead to serious leg-aches later on but we Bongs don't bother about that. Pandal-hopping can stretch from south to north Calcutta, or vice versa, and sometimes can even stretch to faraway kingdoms like Salt Lake. Eating various kinds of food and drinking various kinds of fluids during pandal-hopping are a common feature. We Bongs have a natural inborn talent for pandal-hopping since birth and we don't need any energy boosters for that.

These days pandal hopping generally starts from around Tritiya. Everybody stupidly thinks that it will be less crowded on Tritiya and Choturthi. But it is not. Previously Durga Puja was celebrated for five days, from Sasthi to Dashami. Nowadays it is celebrated for eight days, from Tritiya to Dashami. I absolutely believe that a few years down the line Durga Puja will be celebrated for ten full days and pandal hopping will start from Mahalaya itself.

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in checking out beautiful women of all ages. There is also this stupidity and foolhardiness of following a beautiful woman for miles throughout Calcutta while pandal hopping. After a certain point of time she realizes the presence of her Stalker/Secret Admirer. I personally believe that one woman's Stalker is another woman's Secret Admirer. Its how you look at things which are looking back at you! I have always believed that the pleasure of the hunt is not in the kill but lies in the chase. Anyways so many times I myself have fallen in love with a woman while pandal hopping and have followed her for hours. Generally I failed to summon up the courage to walk up to her and talk to her. But only on rare occasions I managed to perform the seemingly impossible feat and those interactions blossomed into lovely affairs later. Whenever I see a beautiful woman, these lines by Joy Goswami from his poem AMAAR DOTAARA keep playing in a continuous loop inside my head:

AaNdhar Korechhey Baairey,
Naari tey Douriye Morey Mon,
Khodaar Emon Sristi,
Khodaa Nijey Dekhben Kokhon?

The beauty of Durga Puja also lies in Adam-teasing. Sometimes girls in groups who go out for pandal hopping also indulge in a bit of Adam-teasing. Whenever they see a cute handsome boy, they pass remarks and sometimes also whistle at him. The innocent boy generally feels embarrassed and tries to walk away. The girls have fun and masti among themselves with certain levels of Adam-teasing. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in going to Maddox Square on an Ashtami evening. On Ashtami evenings, practically all roads in Calcutta lead to Maddox. That is the place to be and be seen in. Maddox feels like the seventh heaven and cloud nine combined together during that time. Maddox is like the biblical Garden of Eden for Calcutta's Romeos and Juliets. One gets to see the most beautiful women ever seen by mankind. When the Gods come to earth, they bring these ethereal heavenly angels of flesh and blood with them and this makes Calcutta a much better place to live in. Every testosterone driven hot-blooded male desires for something like the Wild Stone Durga Puja ad to happen in his life. One's life is worthless if he or she hasn't visited Maddox on an Ashtami evening. Another feature of Maddox is that this is the place where one accidentally sees one's ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends walking hand in hand with someone else. Again here one also sees one's ex-crushes and ex-flames, either single or happily mingling with their special someones. And those ravishing boudis of Maddox. Someone once said that in Bengal we don't have MILFs, but we have BILFs. Maddox is the paradise where one sees young boys and girls sitting in groups and even after two decades still singing Ranjana, Mary Anne, 2441139, Nilanjana, Phiriye Dao, Shei Tumi, Bhebey Dekhechho Ki and ofcourse the anthem Telephone. In the pre-mobile phone era, friends in groups used to get lost, wander off and again miraculously find each other inside Maddox.

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that still today at some medium or small sized puja pandals one can hear hindi songs from the late eighties and early nineties playing in loudspeakers. I really love to hear songs from films like Maine Pyaar Kiya, Chandni, Lamhe, Aashique 1, Sir, Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Baazigar, Darr, Phool Aur Kaante etc. I get so nostalgic. Whenever I hear these songs I feel as if I am getting transported back to my childhood days. They also play the evergreen hits of Kishore Kumar, Md. Rafi, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle etc. But I have a soft corner for late eighties and nineties' Bollywood films since those were my growing up years. 

Also in the nineties medium or small sized puja pandals used to play the so called "Jibonmukhi" songs of Suman Chattopadhyay, Anjan Dutta and Nachiketa Chakraborty and bengali remakes by Indranil Sen, Indrani Sen, Srikanto Acharya etc. Seldom they played bangla bands. I used to eagerly look forward to hear bangla bands at puja pandals. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in pet-puja that is eating like there is no tomorrow. During this festival even bong female models and actresses don't stick to their diets and gain a few kilos here and there within a few days. The beauty of Durga Puja is in going to bengali restaurants and ordering the traditional bengali thali. When friends from out of town visit Calcutta during Durga Puja then it is mandatory to take them out to enjoy the traditional bengali thali at places like 6 Ballygunge Place, Bhojohori Manna, Oh Calcutta etc. In the last few years a lot of restaurants have blossomed in Calcutta which serve only bengali food. The traditional bengali thali generally consists of luchi, cholar daal, aloo-posto, jhuri aloo-bhaja, gondhoraj lebu, begun bhaja, shukto, potoler dolma, bhaat, kosha pathar mangsho, chingri machher malaikari or daab chingri, chitol machher muitha, bhetki machher paturi, sorshe illish, tomator or aam-er chutney, mishti doi, sondesh, rosogolla and papad. And lastly you need a mishti paan. And you should consider yourself to be the luckiest bastard in the world if your illish machh has machher dim (fish eggs) in it! 

These days what I love is that almost all bangla news channels focus on the coming festival even before Mahalaya and send their reporters to various puja pandals and inform us about the various themes in these pandals. I really find it very interesting that so many puja pandals indulge in so many different types of themes and each one is unique in itself. The imagination and creativity of theme-makers are of epic proportions. During Durga Puja, Calcutta transforms herself into an open art-gallery and this is the greatest open art-festival in the whole world. Also in this age of theme-pujas, Bagbazar swims against the tide and represents the quintessential saabeki-puja. The beauty of Durga Puja lies both in theme and saabekiyana.

These days what I also love is the adda which is organised on various bangla TV channels and where celebrities take part. I especially love to see the one and only Sri Srikumar Chattopadhyay in these addas and love to hear his puratani bangla gaan. This year it was so nice to see the great Michael Banerjee and hear his saxophone on News-Time channel. Its so nice to hear from these celebrities how their childhood and teenage-hood Durga Puja was. I also love the musical concerts which are organised by various puja pandals during Durga Puja. A few years back Anjan Dutta performed at Maddox Square with his son and the legendary guitarist Amyt Dutta and it was a mind-blowing performance. It was so nice to hear his nineties' songs even after so many years. I am a huge fan of Anjan Dutta since my school days. I also love seeing the performances of established and upcoming bangla bands during Durga Puja. The beauty of Durga Puja lies in these musical performances on Puja evenings.

These days the beauty of Durga Puja lies in taking selfies in and around puja pandals and especially with Ma Durga in the background and later posting these pictures on Facebook and looking forward to receive maximum Likes and Comments. For girls it really matters psychologically how many Likes and Comments she gets on her pictures. If a girl posts a selfie on Facebook and then doesn't get a single Like or Comment then she will surely be depressed and in a grumpy mood throughout the day. For boys Likes and Comments do not matter that much. They are way too chilled out. I can clearly see that in the near future puja pandals will put out signs saying SELFIES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED and it could also become a punishable offence! Puja committees will not allow people clicking selfies with Ma Durga in the backdrop because it holds up the line of crowd and is a time consuming affair. Even this year at Deshopriyo Park there were banners which said NO PHOTO PLEASE. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in going out for pandal hopping with your beautiful girlfriend and walking hand in hand and wearing matching colours. Everybody around you will know that you two are a couple. Single frustrated boys will discreetly steal glances at your beautiful girlfriend and you will feel proud of the fact that she is there walking with you only. She will also realize that other men are checking her out and will feel good about it but will behave as if she doesn't care. She will also surely notice what other women are wearing in terms of clothes and jewellery and will take mental notes down.

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in going out for pandal hopping with your handsome boyfriend and walking hand in hand and wearing matching colours. Your other female friends and frenemies will be a bit jealous because of your handsome boyfriend. You will love holding his hand and clinging to his arm in crowded places while pandal hopping. Other women will steal a quick glance at him which only you will notice and you will feel proud of the fact that he is there walking with you only. And if he tries to show you off as a trophy girlfriend to his gang of friends then initially you may be a bit offended but later on you will like his gesture. 

These days Durga Puja still excites me, but not that much. I have seen it all and done it all. I get this same-old-same-old feeling. And I really hate it when it rains during Durga Puja these days. I really get very angry and feel like chopping off the balls of the Rain God Varun Deb and making him eat them. Rainfall during Durga Puja is divine injustice and heavenly cruelty. I really salute those people who go out for pandal hopping inspite of the rainfall with umbrellas and raincoats and no amount of rainfall can dampen their spirits. Hats off to them. The concept of Pujor-Gaan is no longer there in our lives. Pujabarshikis are still there but I think that people buy these magazines out of habit and very few people actually read them from cover to cover. Durga Puja is mainly for children and teenagers, not for me anymore. As I am growing old, I am feeling a sense of disconnection from Durga Puja. Everything is happening around me, yet I somehow feel that I am not connected to it. I feel like going back to my childhood and teenage-hood days. 

Anyways there was a time when DD7 was the only bengali channel which we all had. In those days during Durga Puja there used to be a programme called Puja-Parikrama where one got to see almost all the important and famous puja-pandals in and around Calcutta. I guess this programme still continues on the bangla Doordarshan channel even today. I used to watch that programme on TV religiously. The beauty of Durga Puja was in watching Puja-Parikrama in the evening and ofcourse watching Chhuti-Chhuti in the morning on DD7. And how can I ever forget these lines by Kabir Suman:

 Mone Porey Taar Aar Ek Joner Kotha 
 Dhitang-Dhitang Boler Chhondey Surey 
 Chhotalen Tini Gaaner Ojosrota 
 Kata Chhilo Taar Ticket Onek Durey

 Chhutir Pakhi-ta Chhot-Fot Korey Roj 
 Khachhay Bondi Palatey Paarey Na Tai 
 Dana-Pani Taakey Jotoi Dao Na Tumi
 Pakhir Kintu Chhutir Aakash Chai...

For some people the beauty of Durga Puja lies in boozing and doping and hosting house parties for friends where booze, grass and adda flow freely. This is the time when all friends can get together and have a gala time. Throughout the year we are all so busy running in the rat race and we hardly get the time to catch up with friends. Durga Puja is the time to do so. Also some people love to visit pubs and nightclubs during these five days. Again for some boys boozing is not complete during this festival until they start to vomit. Soil from the doorstep of a prostitute is needed in the making of the idols of Ma Durga. During Durga Puja a lot of men booze and dope and then they go for pandal hopping in north Calcutta and also at the same time pay a visit to Sonagachhi, fondly called Golden Tree, to see a prostitute's naked dance or to have sex with her or both. Or maybe they visit other red light areas of Calcutta. The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that some men truly believe that they can indulge in unrestrained debauchery and in hedonistic pleasures during this festival. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that this festival gives a tremendous boost to the local economy. So many people earn their livelihood from this festival. I strongly support the commercialization and corporatization of Durga Puja. That is the only way forward. In my childhood days, almost every year negative reports used to come out in the newspapers regarding the collection of chandas/donations in various localities throughout Bengal. 'Chandar Julum' was a common term which used to circulate in the air. That trend is almost no longer there. Corporates have come forward and these days they are the main sponsors for Durga Puja. But even if one fine day all the Corporates decide not to sponsor Durga Puja, still this festival will continue. The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the fact that it will go on forever no matter what...

P.S. : Click on this link to read another Blog-Post where I wrote about Durga Puja. 



  1. This is one of the best article about Durga Pujo. Well done.

  2. It’s hard to come by experienced people about this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks