Kolkata: Durga Puja (Part 1)

“Bby, can you have your off day on Wednesday? I wanna go pandal hopping,” I asked Azri the week before. But he couldn’t ‘cause it was peak period so he had to work all weekdays. I wasn’t upset but meh, it sucked a little to not participate in the locals’ huge celebration. If Jolene and Biren or Josephine and Raj were in town, I would have asked them but both couples were away so double meh, nobody to go with and I didn’t want to roam around alone amongst the crowd.

Wednesday came and at 8PM, I got a text from Azri asking me to get ready by 2AM. That took me by surprised but hehe, I was excited! YAY, WE WERE GOING PANDAL HOPPING!

So, a little background: Durga Puja is an annual Hindu celebration in which the devotees worship the warrior goddess named Durga. The festival rejoices her victory against the buffalo demon, Mahishasura, and in essence, the triumph of Good over Evil. The festivities take place over a total of 10 days in India, and it is most popular in Kolkata where more than thousands of pandal (gigantic structure of the goddess) are set up every year.

Rai fetched me at two and soon, Azri and I were at our first pandal. I was awed at the details of the large art piece:

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My favourite pandal of the night.

Here, Durga is the one in the middle with ten arms. She’s equipped with weapons which are given by various male Hindu gods and rides a lion. She is seen to have already defeated Mahishasura. And she is accompanied by her children, four other Hindu deities: Ganesha, God of Good Beginnings; Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity; Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge and Music; and Kartikeya (God of War). Also, at the top right, you can see a framed image of Lord Shiva, her husband.

(I would love to share the rich history of Durga and the symbolisms and what not, but that would mean that there is a possibility that the post will become a paper, so I won’t. If you’re a sucker of symbolisms like me, you can do a quick google search and lotsa information will surface!)

The second pandal we saw was less colourful. Instead, it looked luxurious with the gold decorations:

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Okay, I don’t think real gold was used here. But as extravagant as it sounds, there is one pandal adorned with 22kg of pure gold somewhere in North Kolkata!

The third pandal had some psychedelic vibe. And because it was situated near a carnival, it was crowded:

Here, we saw the drastic difference between the older and younger generations – the former came to pray, while the latter came for selfies.

We checked out the carnival for a bit and tried ice cream made out of a manual roller machine and paan:

Top left: Walk to pasar malam, feat the back of Rai; Middle left: Paan seller; Top right: Ice cream seller; Bottom left: Azri with shaved ice cream; Bottom right: Me with paan.

The ice cream was yummy, but the paan… The paan was too much for me! Paan is a traditional Indian mouth freshener made of betel leaf and spices. A few bites into the mini dish, tastes that my taste buds had never tasted before burst out and I had to spit it out. Undeniably, it was refreshing, but I just couldn’t contain the strong spice flavours. It was a good experience nonetheless, and I had minty breath throughout the night 😛

The forth pandal we hopped to had a special building erected to shelter the idols:

Just look at the details and you can’t help but give the artisans A++ for the work they’ve put in for both interior and exterior…

The next one we visited had a funky feel to it. The deities were not as elaborated as the rest, but the décor of the place was definitely a lot more intricate:

An argument between a security guard and a father broke out here, and my kepo husband and driver (and other visitors) watched and stared. I had to nudge them twice before we moved out. Heh.

The last pandal we saw was huge and was housed in a big building. Apparently, this was one of the more atas structures:

It was already nearing 4AM and my goodness, the crowd there was so alive! For the obvious reason, I couldn’t take a nice frontal shot of Durga and the rest.

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After the sixth pandal, Azri and my legs were feeling tired from all the walking and we decided to call it a night. On the way home in the car, we took in the decorative lights hung almost everywhere. And I thanked my husband again for organizing the pandal hopping trip 🙂