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The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Mother Goddess and brings with it the aura of festivity and celebration

Kolkata is probably the most happening city in India nowadays. Reason: Durga Puja is in the air. Though the festival is yet to kick off, preparations have been enough to envelop the city in a medley of ornamentation, illumination and the aroma of mouth-watering delicacies.

For the business traveller who is in the vicinity, it will be the experience of a lifetime. For him/her, Kolkata offers unlimited shopping options, a culinary fare which is about as Bengali as it gets, huge discounts at hotels, nights which are brighter than day considering the hectic nightlife and the all-pervasion of devotion and exuberance.

Though Durga Puja is celebrated in the month of October (‘Ashwin’ as per the Bengali calendar), celebrations start weeks ahead. The city strikes a different chord altogether echoing the music of bonhomie, brotherhood and festivity.

The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Mother Goddess and brings with it the aura of festivity and celebration. There is a Bengali saying that there are 13 festivals in the Bengali calendar of 12 months. Durga Puja is undoubtedly the biggest of them all. To say that it is being celebrated with fanfare and gaiety in this part of the country is an understatement.

Huge idols of the ten-armed Goddess Durga destroying the ‘Buffalo Demon’ accompanied by her two sons, Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya, and two daughters Goddess Laxmi and Saraswati painstakingly created by artisans, mainly at Kumartuli area of north Kolkata, are placed at the puja pandals (makeshift temples) erected for the purpose.

The much acclaimed pandals reflect the engineering skills of the craftsmen. Innovative illumination of these pandals by the famed electricians of Chandannagar, a suburban town, is another attraction of the Durga Puja.
Altogether, being in the midst of Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata is an unforgettable experience.
And why not, the four days of festivity (though it’s a ten-day festival, the last four days are celebrated in grandeur), is an experience which one treasures.

The rituals start with ‘Bodhan’ (the invocation of the Mother Goddess on the first day) on Sasthi and ‘Naba Patrika Sthapan’ (the important ritual of setting up a giant banana tree clad in a saree beside Lord Ganesha and worshipping her as his ‘wife’) on Saptami. Then there is the ‘Pushpanjali’ (floral offerings to the Goddess) in the morning and the ‘Sandhya Arati’ in the evening of Ashtami, the most important day of the festival. And then the animal sacrifice on Nabami (the third day of the festival and the ninth according to the Bengali almanac) and the ‘Sindoor Khela’ (the ritual of putting vermilion on the forehead of the Goddess by the married womenfolk). Finally, the tearful immersion of these huge images on Dashami (the tenth or the last day of the festival) in the Ganges.

On Ashtami, the devotees have to follow a vegetarian diet but on Nabami, the Goddess is offered non-vegetarian items which are later distributed among the devotees as ‘bhog’.

The Durga Pujas, whether it is at the traditional family houses or the big community ones, have a charm of their own. The ambience, rituals and glitter associated with the pujas at Sovabazar Rajbari, Sabarna Roy Chowdhury’s ancestral house at Behala and in several houses in north Kolkata are unforgettable experiences.

The festival has attained a social character over the years. Kolkata witnesses an upsurge in business activities at least a month ahead of the festival. The Bengali community especially gears up for the festival weeks ahead of D-day. The shopping centres in Kolkata dole out fabulous discounts and offers to the people. Most Bengalis virtually embark on a shopping spree during the festival.

Dressing material, sarees, clothes and furnishings worth crores of rupees are sold during the month ahead. From wristwatches to washing machines, from jewellery to journals, anything sells. Starting from the multinationals down to the roadside ‘misthiwala’ (sweetmeat shop) all vie with each other to have a pie of the cake. The multinationals sponsor big community pujas, dole out gifts; organise lucky draws and contests to attract the attention of the gullible revellers, while the ‘para’ (locality) sweetmeat shop prepares mouth-watering desserts and sweets.

Some even prefer to move out of the din and bustle of the city and enjoy the pujas, holidaying in the snow-capped hill stations or sun-kissed sea-beaches. While some move out of the city, thousands of non-resident Bengalis and tourists from all over the country and world visit Kolkata during this time to be a part of the revelry and celebrations.

The hospitality industry in the state waits in anticipation for this season as the occupancy level in their hotels skyrockets. During this time, luxury hotels in the city offer their choicest dining and staying experience. Eating joints of the city, including the restaurants of luxury hotels, organise authentic Bengali food festivals to attract the crowd.

Almost all the corporate houses do something or the other to make its presence felt during this period. Several Bengali periodicals and local newspapers come out with special ‘Durga Puja’ commemorative issues, which sell as ‘hot cakes’; not only in Bengal, but also in neighbouring Bangladesh and Tripura where too Durga Puja is celebrated with much fanfare and gaiety. Even singers and artistes release ‘puja’ albums which prove to be instant hits. The airline companies too offer attractive packages to its valued customers.

The state tourism department, has also been promoting ‘Durga Puja-The Celebration of Life’ in a big way and wooing tourists to visit the city during the four days of festivity.

To sum it up, besides the ‘revelry’ and ‘ritual’ associated with Durga Puja, the four days of festivity means sale of goods and wares worth crore of rupees.

‘Durga Puja-The Celebration of Life’ is Kolkata’s open invitation to the rest of the world. Come be a part of this festivity, pamper your senses, go ‘pandal’ hopping with your loved and dear ones and even clinch your business deal. Because, according to Hindu mythology, the Mother Goddess comes down to the ‘Earth’ once in a year from her eternal home to bless her ‘children’.