Christmas on Steriods

A traditional pandal, with a lil peek of a yellow Calcutta bus...felt like Lagos with those
A traditional pandal, with a lil peek of a yellow Calcutta bus…felt like Lagos with those

To Bee Honest…

I shared a lot about my first trip to India, about four or five blog posts I believe. However, I never got round to sharing about my second trip which is quite unfortunate. My second trip naturally coincided (cough cough), with the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta

Now I could write a thesis on Durga. I know you don’t want to read all that and I’m not sure I want to write it. Here’s a cliff note version, Durga is basically a badass female “entity” created by the Hindu trinity to kill a demon, Mahishasura, that had been terrorising the demi-gods. Well, he started with hell and earth but the gods did not care until they started getting hassled, typical. In the pandals she is depicted with her eight arms,holding the 8 weapons she was gifted. Generally she is the process of thrusting a spear into the demon as he emerges from a bulls body where he had hidden. In a bid to make the pandals more interesting, my opinion, she is also surrounded by her consort, Krishna and their four children:
– Lakshmi (wealth, fortune, and prosperity ) depicted sitting or standing on a lotus and carrying a lotus in one or two hands.
– Saraswati (knowledge, music, arts, wisdom) depicted musical instrument (lute or vina)
– Ganesha (intellect and wisdom) with an elephant head, impossible to miss
– Kartikeya (war) by process of elimination, the only unaccounted for figure

I had the opportunity to write a short and simple piece for a Calcutta newspaper on my experience. Enjoy:

First published:http://www.telegraphindia.com/1151106/jsp/saltlake/story_51797.jsp#.V1wJMJN97ow

I was in Jharkhand for a project this March. It was there that I first heard about the goddess Durga, her different incarnations and the festival dedicated to her. This goddess that was part warrior, part nurturer, fascinated the feminist in me. A friend from Calcutta also added to the account and encouraged me to come back to experience it.

I wish I could say I took care to ensure that my return trip coincided with the festival. I did not. But as luck would have it, work necessitated that I return in perfect time for Durga puja. Normally I Google everything incessantly, but for some reason I chose not to research the festival or the pandals. In today’s age, it is hard to be surprised because there is so much information at our fingertips but this time I really wanted a surprise.

The first night of pandal-hopping was a revelation. I had already got a hint of what was to come with the colourful lights strung on the streets in Jharkhand, but what I saw there could in no way prepare me for Puja in Calcutta. On Saturday night, my friend’s mum hired a rickshaw and we hopped in to drive a little around Salt Lake.

In AE Block, where I was staying, the rectangular light panels that lined the sides of the roads and the lights at the entrances to the pandals fascinated me. They were so vibrant and colourful, each telling different stories. I saw circus animals; elephants on spinning balls, lots of birds, silhouettes of women, even one that spelt out I-N-D-I-A. The lights were what I described to my mother as Christmas on steroids, more than I had ever seen. I could only wonder about what the power bills for the month of October would be!

A little taste of the light show!
A little taste of the light show!
A lil something else
A lil something else

My first pandal remained one of my favourites. It was organised by BE (East) and so beautifully delicate. I still can’t get over the hundreds of origami birds hanging from the beautiful blue-lit ceiling. The tribute to Nepal in FD Block was also particularly moving and grand on a different scale. It was an entire city constructed for one week.

My favourite pandal, origami birds on the inside
My favourite pandal, origami birds on the inside
The outside of my favourite pandal
The outside of my favourite pandal
Inside my favourite pandal
Inside my favourite pandal

I also got to experience what I believe is an essential puja experience, the Calcutta traffic. Wow! It was something else. We spent about four hours trying to get from Salt Lake Sector I to Deshapriya Park (literally 14km) to visit the biggest Durga. The nice thing is I got to view multiple pandals on the way, not in detail but I guess it’s impossible to see even half of Calcutta’s pandals. I must say that the pandal was worth all the stress to see it. However, while crossing the street and trying to get into the pandal, I was surprised by the amount of shoving. There were more people than security officials and they couldn’t control the crowd. I wasn’t surprised to find out that I was one of the last sets of people that got to view the pandal. Such a shame because it was so beautiful and grand!

Largest pandal ever (according to them). Unfortunately due to stampedes and injuries it was closed shortly after I saw it. No other groups could get this close.
Largest pandal ever (according to them). Unfortunately due to stampedes and injuries it was closed shortly after I saw it. No other groups could get this close.

I wish I could have experienced Puja all the way to the end but I am glad that I did get some days of it. Hopefully my path will bring me back to Calcutta soon.

2015-10-18 17.45.13

IOU

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