Durga Pujo, also known as the Sharadotsav, is predominantly celebrated in West Bengal. But it is also celebrated by the Bengali community settled in various other parts of the country with equal interest and fervour. The five days starting from the Panchami until the 10th day of Dashami, Durgotsav is a grand affair. With the festivities beginning with Mahalaya, it is believed that the goddess visits earth along with her family and spends these 5 days here. Goddess of knowledge – Saraswati, goddess of wealth – Lakshmi and deities like Ganesh and Kartik are also worshipped during this period. Grand puja and prayers, new clothes, delicious food, seeking blessings from our elders and spending time with the family happens to be the norm of all our festivals. But a special feature of this festival happens to be pandal hopping to see the beautiful idol of Ma Durga and take part in the aarti is a divine experience. Thousands of people throng to these sarvajanik pandals to get the darshan and be a part of the festival celebrations. The other states which celebrate this festival with great gusto are Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Tripura.
Sharadotsav 2019, from 3rd to 8th October was special for me. A visit to Delhi and an opportunity to be a part of the celebrations at one of the biggest pandals at Mela Ground and visits to a few more pandals in the Chittaranjan Park locality offered me an opportunity to be a part of the festivities, watch and understand up, close and front some unfamiliar traditions and enjoy the festival. Brightly lit and decorated streets lead the visitors to huge pandals; specially sculpted life-size idols of Goddess Durga slaying the demon, flanked by idols of other deities, chanting of shlokas, the pooja preparations, all set up the mood for the festivities to come. The first glimpse of Ma Durga, grand aarti, reverberating dhak (drum) beats and the dhunuchi (clay pot) naach are all that one needs to personally witness to understand the mood of this festival. Sindoor khela is a much-awaited event of this festival which happens to be on the Mahadashami/Dussehra day. Men and women dressed in their traditional best, offer prayers and seek blessings of the goddess, conduct the aarti. Women in their Laal paar (Red border) sarees with big red bindis on their foreheads and matching white and red bangles to go with their traditional attire, look stunning. An elaborate pooja and the offering of sindoor (vermillion powder), sweets and gift to the deity marks the end of the festival. The exuberant moments of women applying sindoor on each other’s face, greeting and wishing each other and dancing to the dhak beats are a treat to the eyes.
The idol of Durga is immersed in the water on this last day and bid goodbye only to welcome her back the next year. While walking across the streets and in the bylanes of C R Park, one is bound to find quite a few pandals and the mood and celebrations would be thoroughly lively and lovely.