What does Durga pujo mean to a Bengali? Vitality and teeming crowds, combining celebration with positive social action, Durga Pujo is a joyous occasion for all Bengalis in or outside Kolkata. In Bengal we have 13 festivals in 12 months of the year and Durga pujo is the crowning glory in our theme of revelries. Durga pujo in the City of Joy is like the Mardi Gras Carnival of Brazil.
The preparations start at least six months in advance, when the constructions of the elaborate pandals start. If you are part of a pujo organising committee, you tend to spend most of your time snooping around and trying to know what your rival organising committee is designing this time.
The trendy young ladies start racking their brains to come up with exclusive blouse and churidar designs which are given to tailors at least four months in advance. Two months before the pujo, the tailors flatly refuse to take orders even if you suck up to them in your best charming manner.
If you have any talent in music or dance, you volunteer for the local pandal as this is the perfect platform for winning accolades and attention. There will also be a ‘Natak’ or drama that will be performed by members of the organising committee. The rehearsals for this would start at least two months in advance. The participants would slog during the weekends or late into the night after ‘apish’ to give a perfect performance on the D-day. The dance, drama and musical programs by the local talent would be complemented by performances of renowned artists of Kolkata on Ashtami or Navami. From Shashti to Dashami, even the unkempt boy who wears baggy jeans and scruffy shirts would show up in the pandals in clean kurtas. During the day, women would wear designer sarees, but during the evenings many prefer to give the traditional wear a miss for chic cocktail wear. But the lal par shada saree remains a perennial favourite. A selfie wearing the white saree with the red border and a big red bindi is a must in front of the Durga idol. The same must also be uploaded as a Facebook profile picture.
Even Pele the legend from Brazil did the most Bengali thing feasible as he visited a Durga Pujo Pandal with Sourav Ganguli this year. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal also is not immune from the festive cheer. She decided to showcase her musical talent this year by penning the Durga pujo theme of Suruchi Sangha, one of the popular Pujo pandals of South Kolkata. Last year, she had started her celebrations by painting the third eye on the forehead of the idol of Durga at the Chetla Agrani Club in South Kolkata. The artist who had created the idol was presumably thrilled and delighted by the talented Chief Minister’s efforts to enhance his creation.
But the common Bengali would be quite content during this time with a bellyful of grub and gelusil in his pocket.