Location, Shree Sree Mohaprovu Akhra Mondir at Rayer Bazar. The idol of Durga and her four children stood on the veranda, still in the making. The goddess is yet to be adorned with traditional outfit. This is fifteen days before the initiation of Durga puja, when we visited different mondirs of Dhaka.
By now, these idols have already turned the whole locality in to a glittering one. Not just Rayerbazar, puja mondops and the sound of dhuk and dhol, flares up the mood of festivity all around Bangladesh. Our story is about what happens in and around the puja mondop of Dhaka and Chittagong, two of our major cities.
Apart from some traditional rituals adopted by different temples, puja every where is the same. We spoke with Bhishyonath Paal, president of the Shree Shree Mohaprovu Akhra puja committee. He tells us how devotees worship their god, how different rituals are performed by the purohit (priest), and how merriment erupts in to the crowd. He tells us "only the members of paal cast can build the idol." He added, "we get all the necessary items to embellish the goddess from old Dhaka especially from Shakhari bazar".
The making of the idol starts on the day of Jonmashtomi, the birthday of Krishna. Puja starts on ponchomi with 'chondir ghot', which is the news that devi is coming. Everyday flowers, fruits, and some other materials are offered to the goddess. On shoshthi the 'adhibash bodhon' puja is performed. Devi finally arrives on a traditional chariot (roth) on shoptomi. Ladies greet her with 'uludhoni'. The shoptomi puja is performed on this day.
During these three days, movements of the devotees are a little slow. Traditional Durga puja mela (fair) takes place around different mondops. This fair attracts people of all ages. Statues of clay, sweet treats like khaja, goja, batasha, kodma is sold in the fair. Children are most likely to gather around these stalls.
The rhythm gradually amplifies. People start to gather from the day of oshtomi pujo. The fascinating 'kumari puja' takes place on this day. A seven or eight year old maiden girl is worshipped in this puja. In Dhaka, Ramkrishna mission is the only place where kumari puja is performed. 'Shondhi puja' is also performed in this day. In the evening hundreds of lamps (prodip) are lit. It is an astonishing sight and many people visit the temples on this day to experience this phenomenal event.
The final and most fervent days are nobomi and doshomi. Nobomi puja is performed in nobomi. Doshomi is the day to immerse Durga. The day to bid farewell to the goddess until her revisit in the next year. The sacrifice of the devi can not be completed unless the 'dorpon bishorjon' is done. Almost all the idols of Dhaka are immersed in the river Buriganga. Huge rally takes place, people dancing all the way to Buriganga with the beat of drums (dhuk and dhol).
Mondirs in the news are usually the ones at the old part of Dhaka especially Dhakeshwari mondir and Ramkrishna mission. Places to visit in Dhaka would be Tati bazar, Laxmi bazar, Shakhari bazar and Rayer bazar where most of the puja takes place. Resident students of DU living in Jagannath hall arrange a mondop for themselves. If you wish to visit a calmer mondop then your place would be Jagannath hall. Outside Dhaka Naryangonj has huge puja festivity.
Due to the congested status of Dhaka, it is quite difficult to turn the festival in to a grand one. The most spectacular mondops are built outside Dhaka. Chittagong is one of these places.
In this port city, the most impressive puja mondop receive a prize from the City Corporation. Which is probably why the air is full of competition. Everyone tries to make the best out of whatever resource they have.
Puja committee in Chittagong gives special importance to the embellishment of the mondop. Some committee hire students from Chittagong Fine Arts to do the job. In previous years, some mondops had screens behind the idol, displaying landscapes with mountains and falls with projector. The idols are usually bigger than the ones at Dhaka, mainly because of the availability of enough space there.
Puja in Chittagong is usually locality based. Arrangement depends on donations by general people. However the most interesting part of the entire festivity is the on-going stage drama that takes place in every mondop. Stage artists dressed as Mohishasu or equally interesting characters give live show keeping the visitors rapt in gaiety all the time. The most festive area would be Pathorghata, Rohmotgonj, and Nondonkanon. Devi is immersed in the river Karnaphulli. Just like Dhaka, a rally also takes place. The idol is carried on a truck.
Chittagong has one interesting aspect which is absent in Dhaka. Two or three days after the immersion of the devi, puja committee arrange cultural shows for the volunteers who helped orchestrating the fun. Eminent singers from Dhaka are usually hired to perform. The programme is open for all.
All around Bangladesh, five days of bewildered gaiety is bound to dazzle you. It is not possible to narrate all of them. This article is just a little glimpse of it.
With colourful processions, large stages and overwhelming rapture, the capital of West Bengal hits the festivities during this time of the year. Durga Puja is one of the largest festivals in West Bengal, with thousands of devotees offering their prayers, especially during this season. With shops offering a variety of discounts and special offers, and people buoyant in the roads of the entire city, the whole city transforms into a colourful frenzy. This is definitely a frenzy that should be experienced at least once, by all of us.
The festivity starts generating a week before "Shoshthi" with Mahalaya. Mahalaya is the announcement that the goddess has left Himalayas towards Bengal. Although Kolkata may be called the "land of goddess Kali", it is widely renowned for it's festivity during Durga puja. Durga is now the most worshipped goddess in Kolkata and West Bengal.
Walking down the streets in Kolkata during the puja season gives one a taste of the vigour of the city. In other words the whole city comes alive. People attain their yearly bonuses, families and couples go out shopping, and all the stores greet their customers with enthusiasm. Food stalls on and around the roads start flourishing with people settling down after all the shopping.
In places like Gauriahat, it's hard to walk with the rush created, even a week before the festivals. New Market and the places around it are always filled with people looking for good buys. Forum or Shoppers Stop is the latest addition to the already large number of shopping places in Kolkata. Although large malls like Westside and Pantaloons are still worth visiting this puja.
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, buying everything from washing machines to clothes and shoes. If one is lucky enough, one could come across traditional singers during the time near the busy city places, who set the tone for the rest of the day.
The goddess is portrayed in traditional artistic style all around Kolkata. Along with traditional styles, the goddess is also adorned in contemporary clothing. Instead of traditional material, which is clay, a variety of materials are used to construct the protima these days. Kolkata is famous for creative ideas in constructing the Devi. There is news that this year different groups are planning to use bamboo. Every year there is a prize for the best Durga image.
Roads and small lanes get filled with hawkers, dancers and even musicians, giving the curious onlookers an experience to remember. The atmosphere in and around Kolkata reflects that of an occasion the whole city has been looking forward to for the rest of the year. Everyone comes out in afternoons and one can come across Puja mondops at around every large city space.
If you have plans to visit some of the mondops, well you had better be ready for long walks. Moreover, Kolkata has four-day long holidays during Durja puja. So with millions of people hanging around there is always traffic jams around those places. The best place to visit during Durga puja would be Sribhumi mondop, Bosepukur, Bagmari, FD block, Hatibagan, Lake town, Mudiali, Yodevpur Park and Babubagan. However, you would most certainly come across smaller mondops.
The Durga Puja, 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 is an experience to remember.
If one were looking for an amazing night after the whole day of puja, we would definitely recommend Tantra at The Park Hotel situated at Park Street. Tantra is the hottest nightspot in Kolkata and for all those partygoers this Puja the Park reflects the mood of gaiety and fun with Puja Jam sessions, from October 1st to October 4th, 4pm onwards. The Puja jam sessions shall play happening music associated with the festival mood, and music that is definitely worth experiencing. Someplace Else, the Park's in-house alternative bar, is also celebrating puja with the "Octoberfest".
Kolkata's best bands shall be playing and on top of it DJ Austin shall play his amazing brand of music. On top of it all, The Park offers special festival packages for its rooms, so it would be great if you would spend your time there.
The best way to enjoy the city during this season is walking from pandal to pandal. Walking along the streets is fun, but beware of pickpockets and muggers, especially in a crowd. Processions and rallies take place now and then, and most of them are as colourful as the rainbow. However they spurt out music and dancers sometimes follow them.
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.
During the period of Durga puja all other activities shut down. If you happened to be there in this puja to see the amazing sight, then the best thing would be to mingle with the crowd and enjoy the wild experience of this bustling city. The smell of the puja treats everywhere and the hospitality of the Kolkata Bangali's definitely make this city worth visiting during this Puja. So go ahead and enjoy yourself in the 'city of joy'…
By Mishel Ali Khan back from Kolkata
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