Durga Puja in Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is known now) has been captured and portrayed very romantically and beautifully in many a popular Bollywood movie, not to mention vernacular movies.
In fact I would go as far as to say, that Durga Puja is one of the most identifiable and celebrated festivals of Kolkata, rather of all Bengalis (those who belong to the state of Bengal) living anywhere in the world. Any one associated with Kolkata or Bengal for that matter, likes to head home during Durga Puja. Even I did, albeit a little reluctantly (will come to that bit later) head for Kolkata.
Why was I reluctant? Well, it is the sheer number of people on the roads and the traffic snarl-ups, which I particularly do not enjoy. Also, over the years, I personally feel that the festival has lost a lot of its inherent essence, and it is more a commercial award winning jamboree, where the emphasis is more on how well the decorations are done on the outside. It is common to have a decoration budget of at least one million for one Durga Puja, for most moderately big pujas.
No doubt, there is a lot of creativity on display regarding pandal decorations, which are extremely popular too; the sheer number of people on the streets going from one Durga Puja to another ( pandal hopping, as it is popularly known), testify the popularity.
Since I am not much of a pandal hopper, and like to be in one place and soak in the ambience, I mostly stuck to the Durga Puja at Ballygunj Cultural (which was close to home). I am glad I stuck mostly to one puja; for not only did it give me an excellent opportunity to people watch, but also let me observe the various rituals closely. One such ritual was the Sandhi Puja.
Sandhi Puja is considered as one of the most auspicious time of Durga Puja. I had always heard about it, but never really experienced the magic of Sandhi Puja….but, I did this time. This particular ritual happens before the 2nd day of the Durga Puja ( Asthami) is about to finish and the 3rd day of the puja ( Navami) has just begun. To be more precise, the time period of this Sandhi Puja lasts from 24 minutes of Ashtami till the initial 24 minutes of Nabami (the third day). This time period is known as the ‘Sandhikhan’; and here the Goddess Durga is worshipped in her Chamunda form, that is the form when is she is in her warrior/ Shakti avatar.
The whole atmosphere gets electric, especially when the 108 lamps are lit during the puja, the prayer chants of the priest can be heard and the smell of burning incense fills the air. It was thanks to the kindness of an old friend, who asked me to come and observe the puja right from where it was happening that is the ‘thakur dalan’ at Ballygunj Cultural. I had hoped to light at least one lamp out of the 108. My joy knew no bounds, when I lit an entire row of lamps.
When I looked onto Durga’s face to thank her, she seemed so magical. Her eyes seemed to speak, or may be I had just got into a trance. Whatever it was, the simple act of lighting the lamps brought immense sense of joy to the heart.
A trip I was so reluctant to make, but the lighting the lamps at the Sandhikhan and the mystical magical feeling which is safely ensconced in some corner of my heart, makes me immensely glad that I did make the trip to Kolkata. It was the different experience which made it so special.
Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another ~ Rumi