dhakOne cannot imagine a Bengali without Durga Puja and Kolkata. I am one of those Bengali who has been away from Kolkata since 2003. How I miss the fun filled 5 days and nights. Growing up, Durga Puja for us meant that whole family would get together in Mamar Bari (maternal uncle House) – a small two BHK stuffed with 25 plus people in all shapes and sizes – three generations of relatives. It didn’t matter how we were the 360 days of the year – those 5 days were special.

Preparation for puja starts for months in advance – each day of the Puja has its own significance and we chose clothes according to the day.  I love any tradition that allows me to shop for new clothes for 5 days … and two sets one for morning and one for evening.

Been away from Kolkata for many years and I have enjoyed it here just as much. So here I will attempt to decipher the Durga Puja for my non Bengali friend who should try and make it for at least one Puja day and celebrate with everyone. 

Traditionally Durga Puja means the victory of goddess over the demon “mahishasura”.  It’s a simple tale of victory of good over evil.

Mahalaya was on 4th October 2013 is which sort of starts off the festivity. As far as I remember we have woken up bright and early at 4 am to hear the Radio where they would recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmayam for two hours. So just imagine this all of Bengal awake on Mahalaya at 4 am listening to the radio.

Most of Bengal is in a holiday more from Mahalaya till the end of the Puja – the fifth day from Mahalaya is Ponchomi ( start of the Puja) 6th day – Shashthi,, 7th day – Maha Saptami 8th day Maha Ashtami 9th day Navami  and Vijayadasami (Coincides with dussera dates) 

Dates this year

9th October 2013 Durga Puja – Panchami
10th October 2013 Durga Puja – Sasthi
11th October 2013 Durga Puja – Maha Saptami
12th October 2013 Durga Puja – Mahashtami
13th October 2013 Durga Puja – Maha Navami 
14th October 2013 Durga Puja – Vijaya Dasami

 

Ma DurgaThere are large structures that are created for the festival known as Pandals. Pandals are temporary structures that are created with bamboo and colourful cloths. Most of Bengal is covered with it. I used to live in Lake Town, Kolkata which would be as big as Arjun Marg in Gurgaon – there alone we had more than 10 pandals I could go to – ever play ground or community centres are converted into pandals. The themes of the pandals are an artwork on its own, very elaborate. There is virtually no walking space left, forget your cars at home and everyone dressed in their fineries are out on the street.

What to do for the pujas when in Gurgaon? Here we have Puja that I call pocketful of Bengali. There are special communities that hold the pujas every year. Do visit one near you. I am trying to list them for you.

1.     DLF Phase I community centre

2.     Sushant Lok – ahead of Marriot hotel – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sushantlok-Cultural-Society-Regd/156556774384839

3.     Sun city Sector 54 – Aravali Sanskritik Parishad

4.    South city I – The Sahasrabdi Durga Puja Committee – http://sdpcgurgaon.com/

5.    South City 2 – Dokshin Durga Pujo committe – http://www.dgpc.in/

6.    Palam vihar – http://gurgaonkalibari.in/invitation_card.html

7.    Community Centre Sector 14 – I believe this is the oldest one here for about 25 years – http://purbapalli.org/about-us/program-schedule-2013/

8.    Ankur Cultural Society https://www.facebook.com/AnkurGurgaon?ref=profile. This is a Bengali cultural group I met a member at local restaurant here , had mentioned that this is the first year and were planning to do the puja here in Gurgaon.

9.    Kendriya Vihar Durgotsav Samity Sector 56, Gurgaon –  (Facebook page) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kendriya-Vihar-Durgotsav-Samity-Sector-56-Gurgaon/271833716292788?ref=stream

 

Most of this pandals are an all day affair – but best is to know the schedule if you want to participate in the Puja or pushpanjali as we call it, it happens all day and main one is on osthomi. Anyone can join in.

Most days also serves bhog – one need to be a member to be a part of that… but do not worry the eateries around the pandal makes up for not being a member.

Must tryRolls / Chops or all kind / fish fry / Kobiraji / muglai porotha / luchi manghso / puchka (no gol gappa doesn’t even come close)

What to wear while visiting the pandals – keep in mind that Puja are mostly traditional and will notice women in gorgeous saris and men in embroidered kurta – be it morning or evening everyone is dressed at their best each day. So dress your best and you will blend right in.

Remember to carry cash when you visit one of these pandals as apart from the deity you have the eateries as well as the shops that sell many things from clothes to toys to even house hold items.

Best time to visit is in the evening – the lighting effect adds to the beauty of everything.

Most pandals also has many cultural programs that are essentially for the members only. Membership is very reasonable approx 6-8k for life membership for Bengalis.

Rahul and AnamikaAnother interesting custom is followed during the last day – that is Vijaya dosomi called sidur khela. Vijaya dosomi signifies that Ma Durga is going back home to her husband lord Shiva. On this day married ladies get a small plate with sweets and sindoor. This is first applied to ma and then on other ladies on their forehead and “loha” iron bangle (also a sign of marriage) – this is like wishing another for her married life. On this day most ladies are dressed in white sari with red border.  It’s a fun aspect of the Puja and anyone can join in.

For more details do write in – would love to add in more inputs. I can hardly contain my excitement for the biggest festival in a life of a Bengali.  Hoping to see you there at the pandals celebrating with me.