Loud dhaks are beating, a huge crowd is gathered, the priest is giving offerings to the Goddess Durga, smoke is brewing from the Dhunuchi, and you are standing amidst all of this. Could harmony exist in such chaos? I think it does.
I had the privilege of visiting Kolkata during the Durga Puja festival. Having lived in the city during my childhood, I was no stranger to the mayhem before the festival began. The artists putting final touches on the idol, the last-minute shopping stress, fixing the screws on the temporary street pandals as crowds of people descended on the roads.
The arrival of Panchami (the fifth day) commences the main festivities in the city as devotees welcome their beloved mother after the separation of a year. The idols’ temporarily reside in the pandals and bless the people. Devotional songs pour onto the streets of Kolkata and you would often find people rejoicing in the atmosphere of festive spirit. Colours and lights flow through every lane and decorate the city like a bride.
In the evening, every member of the family puts on their best attire and goes for pandal hopping. Each year, the coterie of artists stage remarkable themes for the pandal. Whether it be a social issue or a political subject, the Pandal Committees keep outdoing their previous years’ themes.
This year, one of the renowned pandals staged the atrocious division of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and West Bengal (India). They projected a tired mother with her four children sitting in a bullock cart, confused about deciding which wired side to go – India or Pakistan.
Another pandal was based on a mythological theme featuring a beautiful bronze idol of Durga ensconced in a huge shell structure. From the shell, pleats of a saree surrounded the courtyard winding around the long neck of Draupadi. Numerous arrows were stuck in her voluminous hair. This theme depicted the “Chirr Haran” scene from the epic Mahabharata.
Whether it is the excitement of seeing variously-themed pandals or just receiving the Goddess’ grace, people wait for hours in lines to enter the pandals. The best time of these five days, however, is when the priest performs Pushpanjali (flower-offering ritual). On the beats of Dhak and over the smoke of Dhanuchi, they sway and dance like dervishes, tapping their feet and rolling their arms. It seems as they are having a private conversation with the Goddess, transcending into a divine trance and forgetting that the world around them exists. After the priest, comes the chance of the devotees to perform the Dhunuchi Naach.
Kolkata during Durga Puja is vibrant, bustling with festive spirit and dancing to the tune of the Goddess’ arrival. For the city’s residents, the four days are spent wandering the city, eating street food, and visiting relatives and friends. Whether you are a devotee, a believer, or an atheist, one can’t not be touched by the jubilant energy of the festivities, the sheer joy on everyone’s faces, and the brightness of the city…. To witness this time in Kolkata is magical, exhilarating, and frenzied; forming the perfect blend of harmonious chaos for me.
Writer: Kashish Nagwani (Batch 2024)
Artist: Vidhi Agarwal (Batch 2024)