A Non Bong in Kolkata – Durga Puja Culture (Induction)

posted by Anupriya 11 Comments
Durga Pujo Culture

What would a 27 year old woman miffed with the slow life of the City of Joy know about Durga Pujo, within 3 months of being in the city? Yes, that’s me in 2010. Until then, all that I knew about Kolkata was that it’s the city of Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge and a lazy sect of people (please no offenses meant) for whom the afternoon siesta is as important as the post meal sweets at the dinner table. And mind you all these perceptions were passed on to me from the Bong colleagues from the city itself who I worked with in my various jobs.

I hardly had any idea about half a dozen other communities who had made Kolkata their home over the generations and played a prominent role in the economy of the city by living a happy but busy life, that too within a bubble they seemed to have created around themselves. Yes, that’s what I saw when I landed in this city and tried to settle down as the new bahu of a Marwari household. I saw the kids of the household and the extended family taking polarized stands in favor of their Marwari friends with remarks such as Woh toh Bengali hai!’ Frankly speaking it confused me loads. Having grown up in the pot-pouri culture of Chandigarh cross-cultural polarization actually came to me as shock. But what could a new bahu tell people about having lived in 5 different cities across the length and breadth of the country and never having been subject to such strong (hum Marwari hai, and aamra toh Bangali) communal stance specially among the regular middle class.

But around 3 months after my wedding, suddenly things began to change. The very non-Bong people around me who never got tired of slaying the Bengali community for being jolly good and contended in their lives, suddenly became extremely empathetic towards them.

My lamenting of, ‘Whats wrong with these people? I mean what’s up with these people?’ while I waited for the sea of people to make way for the traffic signal at Gariahat crossing , was met with a very understanding explanation,

‘Now is the time of the year for them to shop for themselves and their near and dear ones’

And I looked on in confusion, ‘Why? What is it?’

The glaring look along with the shake of head that I received made me feel like an ignorant fool. Which I admit I complete was guilty of being one.

‘It’s Durga Puja! Everyone of them has to have atlease half a dozen of new clothes to themselves and have to buy a gift for their relatives. That surely does call for some great shopping effort isn’t it.’ , I heard with utmost attention even as I waited at yet another traffic signal at the Rashbihari Triangular Park. As I looked out of my car, I still couldn’t understand the whirl of crowd around me that was rushing to some place or other. But what’s the big deal. We too have Diwali in the north! But people around here seem to be crazy! Isn’t it another full six weeks to Durga Puja. Haa! The ignorant me refused to take notice of the air around me that was getting charged up with an unnamed electrifying emotion.

As days passed, and the Pitra Pokho began, I became more peeved. Why? The supposed  para’r Pujo Pandal was being constructed right next to my home. the road was blocked and we had to take a longer route to getting to the main road.

‘There will be dhaak for Aroti for all the five days when Ma will be here’ educated my Bangali maid, ‘Tumi o toh jaabe Pandal dekhte’ she enquired further. I looked at her suspiciously. I mean what is it with Pandal watching. I decided to clarify with my man.

‘Arre! I have already talked to P. He will guide us through and help us visit as many Pandals as possible.’ said my man who too was in the city during Durga Pujo, after a gap of 5 years and sought a cousin’s help for this supposedly important matter of Pandal Hopping.

And the ignorant me refused to understand, ‘What’s the big deal about the pandals yaar. You are talking about themes? Haven’t we seen the Ganapati Pandals in Mumbai and Pune. Why are you making it sound like something that’s out of the world’, I had no idea that a couple of days later, I’d have to eat my own words. Because I was comparing an apple with ummm… let’s say a Pineapple? And there stood my husband and my sister-in-law looking at me one glance and then exchanging a knowing look between themselves. She really, actually has no idea. is probably what they were thinking.

I really, actually, definitely and surely did not have any idea.

It was Sashti, when I heard the Dhaak from the Pujo Pandal next door early in the morning. I had gone to bed last night quite dreading the noise early in the morning and grumbled about how I would have to sleep in the afternoon to make up for the lost sleep. But when the beating of Dhaak did start in the morning, it filled me with a strange energy. I woke up, took a bath and before I could check my steps, I was standing near the altar where Maa Durga was being reinstated and welcomed for her stay until Dhashami.

That night, my man and his siblings all came home early to get ready, have a quick dinner and set out for Pandal hopping. Even until then, I remained quite impolite about the hypocritical frenzy that seemed to engulf the air around me. It’s a Bong festival, isn’t it? The radical me wanted to shout out to them, but the new Bahu in me restrained and set out with them for my first ever pandal hopping experience.

Rest I must say is history.  No amount of explanation, description, or personal accounts from other people could have prepared me for that One Big Carnival that the city of Kolkata had turned into. I was amazed and dazed by the amount of thought and hard-work that had been put into creating each and every Pandal, that was unique in its own right. Throughout the next four nights, We – the new couple went out pandal hopping, sometimes with friends and cousins, while other times on our own.

‘This is bigger than anything that anyone can ever experience in India. No, infact in the World!’ the kid and the explorer in me chimed, ‘Even that Brazalian street festival can’t be bigger than this’ I finally said taking into account the fact that no place in the world could match upto the sea of people that thronged the streets of Kolkata during those 5 days. Add to that the illuminated streets across the city, the night life that keeps the city awake 24 x 7 and the union of fun and frolic with religion.

That was my induction into the Pujo culture of Kolkata. That year I realised that despite the fact that Durga Pujo is a Bengali festival, the joy and passion touches everyone’s life during those 5 days. As I write this post, I look out of my window, where the karigars give final touches to the Pandal outside my home and my heart fills up with a joyous emotion at now having become integral to the local Durga Puja culture . I have goosebumps at the thought of what is to follow during the next couple of days. A thought that lingers high on every mind in the city –


You may want to read Five Reasons I Enjoy Durga Puja in Kolkata

This Durga Pujo, 19 bloggers will bring out different facets of Durga Pujo as we share our journey from various parts of the country. You can follow the hashtag #bloggersdurgapujo on FB/Twitter/Instagram and stay updated on every post, picture, video that we share. Please show us some love in the form of likes, comments and shares as we take you on a memorable ride.

List of Participating Bloggers

Dr. Amrita Basu (Misra):

Anupriya Gupta: https:////www.mommytincture

Esha Chakraborty:

Indrani Ghose:

Kapila Rattan Bhowmik:

Dr. Kuheli Bhattacharya:

Moumita Sen:

Nehal Roy:

Paromita Biswas:

Rahul Basu:

Sayanti Mahapatra:

Shalini Magdel Das:

Shamik Byabartta:

Sharmishtha S Ghosh:

Shruti Dugar:

Siya Bose:

Sonali Chauhan:

Sonia Chatterjee:

Soumosri and Utsab

Vasundhara Sarkar:

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Kapila Rattan Bhowmik October 9, 2018 at 3:46 pm

I have tears of joy .. people need to visit Kolkata least once to understand and feel the passion behind Durga puja. very beautifully written

Kuheli October 9, 2018 at 5:14 pm

You said it! No amount of talking about Kolkata Pujo can make up for the actual experience. It’s unexplainable ! This year will be my non Bengali husband and sons first Durga Pujo in Kolkata and I am waiting to see their expressions . 🙂 glad for this wonderful blog post.

Sonam Sahid Khan October 9, 2018 at 6:06 pm

I’m getting so fascinated by reading your post.

Mayuri Nidigallu October 9, 2018 at 6:11 pm

You aren’t a Bong??? That’s a shocker, as I thought you were! What a lovely post! You’ve captured the emotions and feror of Pujo so well, that even a non Bengali would want to visit at least once. Lovely, lovely post, Anupriya.

Nehal Roy October 10, 2018 at 8:04 am

I can really connect your way of thoughts to mine… The difference is I never visited Kolkata at pujo time. That was a really nice post of yours. A real bong pujo post.

Esha Chakraborty October 10, 2018 at 8:10 am

I haven’t been to kolkata for Pujas for a while now… Your post made me so nostalgic and yes I agree its difficult to put into words what durga Pujo is in Kolkata unless you see it for yourself… Happy pujos and Pandal hopping to you

Mahati ramya adivishnu October 10, 2018 at 9:22 am

I have never been to Kolkata. Thanks for your detailed post Anupriya. Durga pujo is the biggest event every year in Kolkata.

Vartika Gakhar October 10, 2018 at 4:40 pm

Experiencing the joy of Durga Puja in Kolkata and Ganesh Utsav in Mumbai are the two topmost items on my bucket list. I absolutely love the way, people celebrate these festivals with immense enthusiasm and passion. Your post fascinated me even more. May be someday, I will be able to make it.

Keerthi Vydyula October 10, 2018 at 11:47 pm

Its been in my list for long now since I first saw the images my friend posted online of Durga Pujo one. Just by seeing those photos I came to a conclusion that It cannot be done in a better way than that!

Amrita October 15, 2018 at 10:23 am

Absolutely loved your post.Its amazing how magical Kolkata becomes during Pujo.Theres nothing lije a Kolkata Durga pujo indeed.

Tara November 24, 2018 at 11:44 am

Always heard tons of fabulous things about Durga pooja in Kolkata..Article provides a good insight about the Pooja. Nice


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