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Kolkata's Durga Puja: A Date with Divinity

As the Mother Goddess's homecoming draws within touching distance, the narrow lanes of Kumartuli come alive with busy craftsmen adding their hurried final touches, the streets begin to glisten with dazzling fairy lights and thousands of enthusiasts flock to the many intricate pandals spread across Kolkata's length

One of the most illustrious festivals of India – Durga Puja is anxiously awaited by every avid traveller. And indeed! The craze has already been set in motion for 2018.

Durga Puja in Kolkata is a massive occasion not just for Bengalis. Increasingly and with an ever-growing velocity, this one-of-its-kind festival has left an indelible imprint in the heart and minds of the global community. No wonder, there will always be a sizeable number of foreign tourists descending in Kolkata just days ahead of this grand celebration. For Bengalis, Durga Puja is the time to unite with friends and family. Puja is the time for camaraderie, solidarity and amity.

Kolkata explodes with joy de vivre and why not? Close to a thousand pandals are erected and decorated with diverse themes – all depicting the infinite aura of Goddess Durga. Millions of pandal-hoppers touchdown in Kolkata, making it one of the largest festivals in the world.

Must-Visit Puja Pandals for 2018

Kumartuli Park

This is one of Kolkata's most outstanding Durgotsav pandals. Located in North Kolkata, the Kumartuli Park Puja has been at the forefront when it comes to showcasing fusion art. This prestigious Puja pandal will be celebrating its 23rd year. Make no mistake, Kumartuli Park might be young in Kolkata's Puja landscape, but it does pack a punch.

Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja

This unputdownable Puja pandal will step into its 73rd year and, in the past, has carved a niche for itself with its brand of innovations. No wonder, honours and recognitions have come its way – Best Puja in the year 1997, Best Artisan in the year 2002 to name just a few. Manicktala Chaltabagan Lohapatty Durga Puja owes its origin to its dynamic Founder Shri Lakhi Chand Jaiswal, who is all of 87 years now. The most talked about events here are the Dhak contest, Dhunuchi Nach and Sindoor Khela.

Bagbazaar Sarbojonin Durgotsav

Bagbazaar happens to be Kolkata's spiritual hub, where Holy Mother Sarada Devi used to live and Ramkrishna Paramahansa, the great spiritual avatar, had also set foot on many occasions, not to speak of Swami Vivekananda – India's cyclonic monk.

Bagbazaar Sarbojonin Durgotsav is easily one of Kolkata's oldest Durga Puja pandals. In the days of yore, this puja used to be celebrated in the outer precincts of the local zamindar's residence. The distinctive feature that separates this puja pandal from the rest is its singular focus on Bengal's rich virile past. Exclusive dance events that reflect Bengal's cultural past is the high point of this rather distinctive Puja pandal.

Ekdalia Evergreen Durga Puja Club

Ekdalia Evergreen, located strategically at Gariahat, has been an out and out favourite with Puja aficionados, due largely to its patronage for Kolkata's artistic heritage. Year after year, this vibrant Puja pandal has been showcasing India's age-old temple architecture. Ekdalia is synonymous with avant-garde lighting arrangement and elegantly designed interiors.

Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Durgotsav

When it comes to family patronised Durga Puja, the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury Durgotsav is easily one of the best managed. This is one of the oldest household pujas in Kolkata and ideally located in Behala, not too far from away from Saurav Ganguly's magnificent mansion. This puja dates back to 1610 and owes its origin to Lakshmikanta Ray Mazumdar. An integral part of the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury's Puja is its majestic rituals in honour of Goddess Durga. The antique wooden scaffold of the Durga is carefully preserved as are the priceless chalchitras that offer a truly majestic backdrop to the idols. Try to be there at the immersion event at Babu Ghat, which is every bit splendid.

Visiting Kolkata during the puja is an assault on your senses and the 2018 edition will be just that. Already, plans are afoot to showcase Deepika Padukone's Padmaavat and it should come as no surprise to you if you come across a perfect replica of the magnificent Chittorgarh Fort of Rajasthan while pandal-hopping in Kolkata's upmarket Salt Lake area. This is Kolkata's inimitable way of paying tribute to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's celebrated Padmaavat thriller. Sreebhumi Sporting Club, which is celebrating its 46th year, plans to recreate not just the majestic fort but also the costume and paraphernalia that went into the making of one of India's most epic box office hits. It must be reiterated that last year, Sreebhumi Sporting Club had showcased intriguing scenes from the Bahubali thriller that drew record crowds.

According to Manish Rao, a Committee member of the Club, "This time, our pandal will be based on Padmaavat. Around three to four lakh people visit our pandal daily, during the festival. We hope, this time, Padmaavat will do well. We are trying to attract more and more people."

This year's Puja fervour will transcend to a different level, with a perceptible Chinese essence. The Chinese Consulate Kolkata in collaboration with BJ Block Sarodotsav Committee is all set to highlight the customs and traditions of China's Yunnan Province.

According to Ma Zhanwu, Honourable Consul General of the People's Republic of China in Kolkata: "It is a good opportunity to promote cultural exchange between the two nations."

The pandal in all likelihood will be designed in the form of a 'hulu' (Chinese bottle gourd) which is believed to promote happiness and prosperity as per Chinese beliefs. The very best of ancient China's art, music, dance and food will be on display at the venue.

Puja Gastronomy

Kolkatans are die-hard foodies and to set the culinary temperatures soaring in the City of Joy, Dashabhuja – one of Kolkata's best known culinary brands, is all set to open an exclusive Durga Puja themed restaurant. Dashabhuja is to Bengalis what McDonald's is to Americans. This year, this historical eatery will come out with all guns blazing – the menu will consist of traditional Bengali treats starting with Puja Bhog (Khichdi & Labra) and gradually expanding to the truly sumptuous spread of mutton curry, luchi, chanar paturi, rice, and payesh.

Where the Goddess Comes Alive

Goddess Durga is the epitome of beauty. As a traveller and a proud Bengali, I have often wondered, how are the idols so beautiful, so gorgeous, so angel-like! Who are behind such tremendously intricate art forms? Where do they live? What materials do they use to craft such divine works of art year after year? These questions had kept me guessing and intrigued until I decided to take a walk down the alleyways of Kumartuli.

Yes, Kumartuli – where Gods are crafted and given shape, to be worshipped by millions. Not just in Kolkata, not just in Bengal. In fact, way beyond the seven seas.

Kumartuli, aka, Potters Town, I was told, has been in existence for 300 years now and close to 200 potters' families are domiciled here and their only source of livelihood is idol-making. These sculptors or idol makers have defied the ravages of modernity and urbanisation to hold on to their traditional art form for centuries together to offer humanity with idols to worship and garner some peace in an increasingly hostile universe.

Witnessing the process of idol making at Kumartuli is an introduction to ancient Indian artistic ethos with karigars going into the sculpting mode after performing the holy "Garanlkathamo Puja" which incidentally coincides with the day of Rath Yatra. The thousand-year-old Indian Puja rituals blaze the modern inquisitive mind and the devotion that is inherent in the minds of the karigars is truly a humble spiritual experience – worshipping the tools, special Puja of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi to name just a few. Even the dresses and accessories of the idols are consecrated to the Almighty God.

Kumartuli is a unique place. Emancipating the spirit and elevating cultural bonhomie. It is worth your while to venture into this mysterious cultural cauldron of Kolkata for an intimate date with divinity.

As a proud Bengali, I shall wait in anticipation for the day when Kolkata's Kumartuli will find a patron to convert Potters Town into a veritable museum of clay sculptors who will sculpt, chisel and give divine shapes to the figures of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.

Subhasish Chakraborty

Subhasish Chakraborty

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