Visits from Delhi: Kolkata during Durga Puja, Part 3

Day 3 or Ashtami Puja

My parents-in-law stay in a cosy neighbourhood of Kolkata, in the area known as Salt Lake. Every year residents of the Mahavir Vikas housing society, around a thousand residents, sponsor their very own Durga Puja. They not only perform all the rituals of the puja, or the offerings, they also host a number of cultural programmes on a makeshift platform, which allows local talent to flourish. They perform dances, and theatrical performances, musical shows and various contests, all to strengthen the bond between the residents and their families. Whenever I get the holiday, I do make it a point to spend a huge amount of time in soaking in the atmosphere of bon homie in Mahavir Vikas. I was quite impressed to see Wikipedia describing Durga Puja as the ‘largest outdoor art festival on earth’.

Astami puja in the Mahavir Vikas Durgotsav begins early, and as a rule, we stay without food or water (nirjal upvaas) until we can offer our prayers to the Goddess. Bengalis are so terribly fond of food, that even our concept of going without food means only a half day upvaas, as our fasts often en by mid morning. And yet, there’s a huge fun factor in fasting as a community, which I loved, in my entire childhood.

Day 4 or Navami Puja
The puja for the day begins with Sandhi Puja performed at the midnight, with lighting up of 108 tapers, or diyas, all at once by the ladies of the community. The normal puja commences in the morning.
My favourite parts of the days of the puja ceremony are the aartis performed in the evenings, and the bhog, or community feast we all sit together and eat. Durga puja is not only about religious ceremony, it is also about art, culture, brotherhood and taking pride in being a Bengali, the one from Bengal.
If bhog appeals to my taste and aarti appeals to my sense of vision if there’s a music that appeals to me during the puja days, it’s the sound of dhaak being played. I love music that comes out of the dhaak, or drums, traditionally played by dhaakis, or musicians specialising in the instrument.

Here’s a dhaak music I have recorded in my camera:

Day 5, or Vijaya Dashami
This is the last day of the puja, when we let the Goddess go back to her heavenly home, and immerse the idols on the holy waters of the river Ganga. Dasahami is the day of sadness, as it marks the end of festivities. As married women, we offer vermillion, or sindoor, to the goddess as a sign of marital happiness, during the Sindoor Khela.


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