A festival of prime importance in the region, Durga Puja is a time where ordinary life comes to a standstill and Bengal stands transformed. The festival is a commemoration of Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahishasura and also a way of welcoming her back to her homeland.
The preparations start on Mahalaya, which is on a new moon or Amavasya day. On this day the Mother Goddess is invoked and invited to visit the land with her family. Durga only arrives on the sixth day after the new moon- Shashti. She is supposed to have come for a four day stay along with her children Ganesh (who is accompanied by his wife- Banana tree), Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Her stay is celebrated over the four days which are respectively termed Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami and Maha Nabami. There is a riot of pandals which sprout up in every locality to host the idols and hold ceremonies of worship. Famous pandals vie for attention by ranging from artistic to pure wacky in design. Over the years the Puja has seen pandals made of buscuits, giant playing cards and buttons or guised as a pirate ship, Titanic, a Haunted House, famous monuments of India and even Hogwarts. The entire city is lit up and often the lighting is patterned to reflect current events, be it 9/11, 26/11, Nandigram, or T20 Cricket. The whole city stays awake ‘pandal hopping’ and attending the various events and functions organized at every pandal. In short Durga Puja is a giant carnival and a whole section of India tends gets lost in the celebration of it.
The four days of wild festivity are followed by Bijay Dashami, the tenth day from the New Moon when the ladies of the house bid farewell to the goddess with gifts and sweets and play holi using sindur (called sindur khela). The idols are then carried to the river Ganga amidst great pomp, celebration and beating of drums. The idol is immersed into the river with prayers in the expectation that the goddess will return via the Ganges to the Himalayas where she resides with her husband Lord Shiva.
A flavour of the true blue Bengali Durga Puja may be caught even here in the heart of North India. Certain areas in New Delhi such as Kashmiri Gate, Karol Bagh, Civil Lines, Chitaranjan Park, Greater Kailash and the New Delhi Kali Badi hold famous celebrations which ought not to be missed.