Feeling the presence of Shakti @ Durga Puja @ Kolkata

Durga Puja in Kolkata

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.

One of the award winning pandals of Durga Puja. Theme: Buddha, symbolizing world peace

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.

108 oil lamps being lit during Sandhi Puja

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.

Durga

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

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About nishi01

Savoring and writing…
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14 Responses to Feeling the presence of Shakti @ Durga Puja @ Kolkata

  1. madammommy says:

    Beautiful write up, Nishi. I was right along with you, lighting the diyas. I, too, am glad you made the trip. Opulence, notwithstanding, pujo time is a magical time. I am gald you were part of that magic.

  2. rebecca2000 says:

    How wonderful that you were able to make that journey. Wonderful post!

    x,
    Becca

  3. dietriotgirl says:

    Amazing. Glad you were able to make the journey. I respect your desire to observe one ritual opposed to hopping around… much more intimate and valuable experience i would like to think. I’m not familiar with this religious practice but it sounds so beautiful and amazing. Is it similar to that of the Hindi faith? My grandfather is from Guyana and he is of Hindi faith but in his old age he has an alter with a few statues and he prays every Sunday ( for a long time) but doesn’t practice the “holidays” or anything.

    • nishi01 says:

      Thank you dietriotgirl. Yes, this is a part of Hindu faith. Durga is worshipped in many forms across the country, especially during this time. In the Eastern part of India, that is West Bengal, she is worshipped as Durga.

  4. Nice one Nishi ma, I would love to go back to my good old days. Growing up in Calcutta, there is nothing of Durga Puja that I have not experienced right from the time the ‘para gundas’ 🙂 come asking for chanda to put up the idol to the start of Mahalaya, Sandhi Puja, dhakki dances et all and last but not the least, the bhashaan. Coming back to Kol of today and experiencing the whole thing again is my dream. You have put it so nicely, especially of the lighting of those diyas – it is all about the energy and atmosphere that is so electrifying 🙂 Lovely experiencing the Kol carnival virtually from your eyes.

    • nishi01 says:

      Thanks so much for reading. Kolkata of the yore has changed…pujas are now very big budget, and most of the money is now through corporate sponsorships. In fact I was stunned to see the Asthami bhog at Ballygunj Cultural wherein close to 1500 people ate…and all were welcome. The food was top quality and extremely well managed. You really must make a trip sometime….but be prepared for the sea of people out on the roads:)

  5. The Empress says:

    What a beautiful write up from a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing this with me Nishi. I could feel each emotion, and felt myself lighting the lamps with you, the sound of conch shells, mantras, bells and prayers pervaded my cold and bare room as I read this.

    I have had some strange mystical experiences myself. As a child, I once was very frightened at a pandal, because I saw the idol move. I saw all the idols breathing, batting their eyelids, smiling, talking amongst themselves, and then standing absolutely still during the arati etc. I was so confused. I stared at it for hours. Noone believed me except my grandmother, who said she had similar experiences as a child herself. It always fascinates me as I have a faultine of disbelief and atheism running through whatever spirituality has permeated my being. I see it all as part of the wonderful machinations of the mind – perhaps heaven and hell reside within us and are projected to the exterior.

    Keep on writing beautiful girl, and do keep on sharing. With much love,
    Samragi

    • nishi01 says:

      It must have been such a surreal feeling Empress. Yes, I agree it is all the wonderful machinations of the mind and a mind, which is open to all experiences. Much love back.

  6. amritaspeaks says:

    I am from kolkata living In Dubai now but i was there during the Pujas this year. I loved your writeup and especially about my favourite place Ballygunge Culture. You have put together the essence of Puja very beautifully the spirit the crows et al but is the live ethnic fashion parade for the five days of Puja still on at Ballygunge Culture? wud have loved to know about it.
    Cheers

    • nishi01 says:

      Yes Amritaspeaks, one needs to just sit by and watch the people strut by in their finest wear. Thank you for dropping by to read, and it is so wonderful to know that Ballygunge Culture is a place you have had memories of. Warm regards

  7. reshamblr says:

    This is such a beautiful write up. Kolkata pujo will never ever lose its charm for me, I always put on that rose tinted glass of happiness and nostalgia when I am there to savour all the fun and happiness during Puja. Lovely post.

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