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Durga Puja @Kolkata

Durga Puja
Durga Puja is celebrated every year around September-October, precise dates depending on lunar calendar. It is also known as Navratri, which means nine-nights in Sanskrit, when nine forms of Mother (Maa) Goddess Durga is worshipped. Maa Durga believed to have killed a demon called Mahisasur and since then the festival is celebrated as a victory of good over evil. Puja though means worship literally but here it is used as noun to indicate the festival itself.

Maa Durga
Maa Durga

In Kolkata
Kolkata, one of the major cities in India, apart from being known for Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge, sweet dishes and delicious fish dishes, is also famous for Durga Puja celebrations.

Localites start preparing for the celebrations one month before Puja – buying new clothes, cleaning and decorating their home to welcome Maa Durga. More than 200, or rather I should say countless pandals (temporary structures fabricated using bamboo and cloth) are decorated throughout the city and beautifully sculptured Maa Durga murtis (idols made of river soil) are worshipped in them.

Almost entire city is out on the road and lanes which are decorated by lights to visit decorated pandals and worship Maa Durga. People also celebrate by participating in traditional Garba dance forms organised by local clubs.

Saptmi with Friends
On Saptmi (Seventh day), I received a call from Kaushal and plan of pandal hopping was freezed. We met at Posta Ganesh Mandir and I came to know about the plan. Uber, a cab service provider, started their operations in Kolkata last month only and they were offering some free rides in festive seasons, which I was totally unaware of. Karan was the mastermind behind the plan and he started executing by logging in the mobile application and booking a cab as per offer scheme. Results were spot on, we got down at our first of many destinations, Kumhartolli, for free. Driver was a good guy, and also explained that the Uber cab drivers are getting 15,000 INR for serving 50 hours in 4 days of Durga Puja (Sixth to Ninth day) and we could get Uber cabs only till 2am. That excited us as we could sense that if we plan it well, we can visit many pandals for free.

Vinay also joined us here and he has an identification card of being a journalist, also known as Press Card (Note: I am not saying that he is a Journalist, but these things can happen in India, that you are not a journalist and still you can get such identification card prepared). Now this card gave us privilege to enter through VIP line (Short special queue to see Pandals). Oops! I forgot to tell you about the queue. Over a period of time certain pandals get famous and you need to stand in a crowded queue. It may take 2 hours or more for one famous Pandal.

But Press Card and Uber scheme made the day for us. Now we started expertising in our time management skills. We got to another pandal by Uber. As soon as we reached, we used Press Card. Got in the VIP queue and assessed the time we will get out from the pandal versus time that can be taken by the nearest Uber cab to reach us. Booked the cab and off to another location. We took around 5 cabs and travelled free of cost and trouble, avoiding the city traffic by taking longer routes, thanks to Kaushal knowledge on roads. From 9.30pm till 2am, we covered pandals of Kumhartolli, Arhitola, Bhootnath Mandir, Park Circus, Bosepukur, Swabhumi and Dumdum Park.
But as said correctly – “It’s about the journey, not the destination”.

I wonder
I wanted to include this segment to think through some aspects as I write. Maybe be all thoughts are lying there scattered in some corner of my mind but I really not know any answers to them.

Throughout the blog till now have you wondered-
Who is setting up these pandals?
And if so? Why are they setting up pandals?
Where are they getting funds from?
Remember I told that the preparation of the Puja starts one month before the festival begins?
With this, also start the preparations for setting up pandals.
Assume the city as a cake, divisible in as many numbers as you want to cut it – Larger the slice, better it is!! And when it comes to Puja, every area of the city is divided into “200 or rather uncountable divisions” which comes under the purview of domestic clubs. These domestic clubs may or maynot be involved in any religious or charity based activity throughout year but will surely set up a pandal in Durga Puja. Areas are demarcated for every club in detail according to building numbers as per the mutual understanding between these clubs. Now larger the slice of area and wealthier the residents, falling under the area of a particular club, larger is the sum of money that can be gathered by these clubs. Please note the word used is “gathered” and not “donated”. Donation as per me is a voluntary act of charity and not a mandatory act. But the way funds are raised looks very customary – 2-3 young guys (between 20-30 age group) would come to your door and say that they are from XYZ Club for collecting “Chanda”, which means contribution of that household to set up the pandal. Now if the word “Chanda” itself means contribution, does it need to be mandatory or voluntary? It seems voluntary but is indeed mandatory. As these clubs are mostly managed by local goons and people who live with family don’t want to create grudges with goons living in the same locality, people. Larger the fund size, powerful the goons. I am not sure if I should write it as “Powerful the goons, larger the fund size”. You can’t detach power from money! Can you?
I am not saying that they are completely wrong. They collect money and do decorate beautiful pandals but what happens to the money which is left over? Who is accountable? Aren’t the contributors to the cause supposed to know? And for a moment if I assume that the fund collected falls short of the budget for pandal decoration then what seems to be the most logical – some philanthropist from the club or area will donate more to meet the budget? Or decoration of the pandal will be compromised?
Now left over money is the consideration for which these clubs exist and share of the left over is the incentive for the young guys working for it. Imagine what will happen if someone influencial in the club is not happy with the distribution of the money? Simple – He will start his own club and try form his own club. Though this isn’t as easy as it sounds because creating a new club would mean further bifurcation of area, which would be difficult to negotiate with already existing clubs, specially the club from which the guy is separating. Results – He will ask for contribution for a new pandal from the same homes, till the clubs couldn’t resolve it by themselves – And till then peace loving society will keep contributing to whoever come at their doorsteps asking for “chanda”.
Next time you are asked for “chanda”, ask if you can donate in kind. Every year, dad helps the local club with a Garland for Maa Durga and they are happy with the contribution.
A note to Government – Please make it mandatory for every club setting up a Puja, to get registered legally and do away with small trouble making clubs. I am not sure if this completely resolves the problem, but really can’t think of anything better.
Disclaimer – Blog isn’t intended to one who really put their heart and soul in setting up pandals religiously. But I am sure you would understand the pain of a person who isn’t donating willfully.

Child Labour
I love this festival – because it makes the city more lively and more so because it brings happiness to many lives. Specially to the lives of those who come to the city nearby suburban and village areas.
As the entire city is on streets for pandal hopping during evenings, it creates ample opportunities for people to sell snacks, toys, do road shows, play drums, etc. All the opportunity seekers come from nearby villages to make some money during Durga Puja.

Rope Walker
Rope Walker

Please don’t get shocked to see kids playing drums or performing a rope walk. It’s a common sight here on streets. It is just that we are so used to see this, year on year during the festival and even in our daily life, that we don’t even realize about the future of the kids. Villagers bring their kids along with them in the city not for celebrations, but for helping them to run a small street-side temporary shop or to perform rope-walk or other road shows.

Story worth mentioning-
One of our college student’s father was called upon by the Principal and asked for why is the father not sending student to complete his graduation –
Father – I have asked my son to help me in farming because anyhow these days even graduates don’t find a job
Principal – Its fine you can make him go for higher studies, post graduation qualifications and I am sure he will do well
Father – Neither I have money nor is he good enough for scholarship. I don’t see him pursuing the higher studies
Principal – In that case, atleast allow him to complete his graduation. He can try and find himself a job
Father – Sir, I appreciate your concern but a degree with no job guarantee is a waste of time and you tell me why to even give it time and efforts if he may not get a job
Principal (asked after a pause) – Ok tell me how much are you studied?
Father – High School
Principal – Your father?
Father – As far as I remember he couldn’t complete his basic schooling
Principal – Did u never want your kid to study more than you have?
Father (after a thought) – Yes
Principal – This is how education spreads. I am sure, one day you will see your Grandsons completing Post-Graduation.

To tell you fact, this might not sound really convincing to everyone, but somehow as my parents are less educated than me, I could connect to the story, and so did that father. But next time you see child working in your area, try and spread the small story to those who think education is of no good. Maybe we can do more than watching them work?
It is wonderful to see a kid smile 🙂


As told that this festival is celebration of victory of good over evil.
I came across an article last week – Gujarat cleric held for controversial anti-garba remark

A person called Garba as “festival of demons”, so let me explain you with some background –
Garba is a traditional dance form originated in the state of Gujrat in India. Over a period of time, and increasing enthusiasm among youth, the traditional dance kept losing it charm and people who didn’t know how to do Garba, found an alternative – Dance (even if you don’t know any dance forms or dance at all). As a result, during Puja, event organizers set up Garba/Dance Programs. A few are traditional where they don’t allow without proper costume, whereas others you can say are just dance floors. Sorry, to miss the most important background – In India, having pre-marital is a sin and even a kiss before marriage is a taboo, forget about hugging (even your spouse) in public. So whatever the size of dance floor be! You can imagine what would youth do with the freedom of night-out during Puja, which is once in a year freedom.
I am not saying what youth does is good or bad.

Rather spare a thought on why the hell is media mentioning the religion of a person who is held for remarks on a religious festival?
Headlines could have been – “A person arrested for quoting Garba as “festival of demons”
@Media – Stop playing Mahisasur!!