Meeting Goddess Durga in Kolkata

In the previous company I used to work for, I remember the month of October as the month in which my team had a fairly relaxed work schedule. I was working on a business development project with the India office and my team in Kuala Lumpur was never able to contact as many Indian merchants as planned because of the Durga Puja festival. The merchants did not have time to speak to our telephone representatives and in the case of Kolkata merchants, they hurriedly ended the calls and said “I’m very busy now, call back after pujo”.

Work literally stopped for nearly two weeks. My team was happy whereas I wasn’t because business performance metrics still had to be met. My counterparts in Delhi office later mentioned to me about this festival, therefore contact rates with the merchants were expected to be low.

Organizing a team outing in KL wasn’t easy as well. My Hindu team members had to decline because of the festival – they were either fasting or had plans to go to the temple after work. So I left it as that with the knowledge that October = Durga Puja festival = low work volumes and no team outings.

However, it was a couple of years later that I learnt about the huge significance behind the Durga Puja festival, and made a decision to go to Kolkata to see the festival myself.

*****

Durga Puja is an annual Hindu festival that celebrates the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. It is celebrated across India, and is the grandest festival (a five-day annual holiday) of Bengali Hindus in West Bengal.

According to Hindu mythology, a demon named Mahishasura gained respect from Lord Shiva after a long and hard penance. Lord Shiva was so impressed by Mahishasura’s devotion that he blessed the demon that no man or deity would be able to kill him except a woman. Unfortunately, the demon arrogantly assumed that a woman could never destroy him, hence he went back to his evil ways, killed many people and attacked the abode of the gods.

The gods sought help from the Hindu holy trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – who in turn, jointly created a woman possessing great power and ferocity to ultimately fight, defeat and destroy Mahishasura. Durga was formed with ten arms, equipped with weapons and went into battle astride on her lion to fight against Mahishasura. The demon was killed, and Durga finally restored peace and returned the heavens to the gods.

Goddess Durga formed with ten arms, equipped with weapons and went into battle astride a lion to fight and kill the demon (featured on the right).
Goddess Durga formed with ten arms, equipped with weapons and went into battle astride a lion to fight and kill the demon (featured on the right).

Hence, the goddess Durga is worshiped during the festival to mark her victory over the demon; a victory of good over evil. Since then, devotees have always prayed to Durga for protection from the powers of evil.

Pause for reflection: Men should never underestimate the power of women – see what happened to the demon? 😉

*****

Durga Puja festival in West Bengal is celebrated on a grand scale, almost to an equivalent of Christmas in the western countries. In fact, more grand than Diwali. People wear new clothes, businesses have special advertisement campaigns, cinema releases new movies for the festival. I was told that the city of Kolkata feels very different too: schools were closed, people were in a holiday mood, more traffic on the road, special lights in the city and neighbourhoods, etc.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience the full five days of celebration in Kolkata as I had only arrived on the second last day of the festival – very late at night – thus, I managed to see the festivities on the last day.

I was happy to finally meet Amrita Das after knowing each other for a year through our blogs, and since she’s living in Kolkata, she brought me around her local neighbourhood to see the pandals. A pandal is actually a temporary huge structure made of either paper, wood, bamboo or other materials, set up to honour the goddess Durga. The structure is called the puja pandal and typically houses Durga and her four children: Ganesh (Remover of Obstacles), Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth), Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) and Karthik (God of War).

Goddess Durga and her four children inside the puja pandal
Goddess Durga and her four children inside the puja pandal
The first pandal we visited
The first pandal we visited

It’s a community festival in Kolkata, so people travel from one pandal to another (pandal-hopping) in the city to see the various structures. We visited three pandals that were within walking distance in the neighbourhood.

Another pandal
Another pandal

kolkata goddess durga at another pandal

The third pandal we visited - how creative and innovative!
The third pandal we visited – how creative and innovative!

kolkata goddess durga in third pandal

*****

As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”. The last day of the festival especially from evening onwards involve rituals of married women, wearing red and white sarees, queuing up at the pandals to apply vermillion powder and feed the Goddess Durga and her children with sweets. It’s a form of bidding farewell to Maa Durga, worshipped not only for her victory over evil but as Mother of the Universe as well. After that, the women playfully apply and paint the vermillion powder among themselves.

Feeding sweets to Goddess Durga
Feeding sweets to Goddess Durga
Married Bengali women with vermillion powder on their faces
Married Bengali women with vermillion powder on their faces

By nightfall, the communities then immerse Goddess Durga and her children on the banks of the river Hooghly at various ghats – a grand send-off – wishing her farewell and that they would look forward to seeing her again next year.

*****

Pin it!

meeting goddess durga in kolkata katpegimana

Do Like And Share:
0

    1. Thanks Alok, your comment means a lot to me as I was trying to strike a balance between anecdotes related to me during the trip and a couple of readings I have done on Hindu mythology. Sometimes it gets confusing especially when there are North vs South versions, and in this case Bengali version 🙂

  1. There are so many sculptures of Durga Mahisasuramardini in Indonesia, especially in the museums. By this post now I understand the story behind. Nice info Kat.

    I’ve heard and read about this festival many times, and I think you’re pretty lucky since you could experience it by yourself. I hope someday, I could be there on the right time 🙂

    1. Oh so you have the sculptures in your museums, how interesting. The festival is usually in mid Oct, so do check out the dates if you have plans to travel to Kolkata during that time 🙂

  2. Now that’s some coverage of Pujo in WB.

    I too am from a Bengali-dominated area in Assam and the Puja (as we call it there) is very grand as well but the Pujo in West Bengal, specially Kolkata is way more fantastic!

    You are lucky to have experienced it first hand!!

    Cheers,
    Rajiv

  3. What a beautiful write up Kat. Durga Pujo is a huge festival in Bengal and now also celebrated with large pomp and show in many parts of India (and abroad)
    You will be surprised to know, I have been planning to visit Kolkata for last 5 years (during Durga Pujo) but I am not able to make it.
    Good to know you had a local contact, that make it much easier to get close to local culture.

Leave a Reply