This afternoon while returning from the nearby vegetable market we both, myself and my grand daughter, were walking too slow during the last lap of our journey, for, we were crossing the pandal of our neighbourhood Durgapuja. We stopped for a while, and, watched how the women members of the organizing group preparing themselves for the last rituals for the final journey of the Durgamata and her four children. Most of the decorative items of the pandal were already stripped down. At this point my grand daughter made this comment “I always feel sad on this day, the Doshomi….. this means the Durga Pujo is over and a wait begins for a whole one     year !” I had no option but to admit that I too since her age, always felt the same way. I bet, you ask any Calcuttan, of any age, belonging to any state or religion, she or he would always felt the same way.


cs-05Durgapuja, in Kolkata, and, all over the state, is a festival dear to one and all and a show-case of true secular spirit. Everyone whole heartedly participate.

images 2How the pujas are held ? Let us get an idea. There are various types of pujas now.

Bonedi Barir Pujo (Puja held by erstwhile zamindars or famous families of Bengal). These pujas are normally held at the permanent Thakur Dalan (Festival Arena). These are the oldest pujas, and there are many such family-pujas still being celebrated .

images 3Baroari Pujo (Puja held by Community of Friends) “Baroari” literary means twelve friends. Legend has it that 12 young men from a zamindar house came together and started the first community puja. This is the lifeline of the Durga Puja of Bengal There are 28000 such community pujas in Bengal. Kolkata holds about 3000 large size such Friends Community pujas. These are held by collecting donation from locality, sponsorship and patronage by various shops, factories and industries.

Housing Estate Puja – These are the new entrants. A large number of multi-storied buildings with many flats have come up all over the state. Each building organizes a Durgapuja.

images 5So, in all there are a large number places pujas are held with pomp and glories. The decorations made, especially by the Community Pujas, on the Puja Pandal (Puja Arena) are spectacular. Each one is a creative and very unique exhibit. Various industries announce the best pujas and make cash awards to the best decorated Puja. This made the event competitive and interesting ! It is normally a 4-day event, but, these days many pujos linger on — they start a few days early and delay their “final day” . There are a large number of crowd from early morning, through whole night on pandal hopping ! There are many temporary food stalls and restaurants who arrange additional chairs and tables.

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Those days the area I live was a secluded place.  This was the extreme corner of southern Kolkata and there was a railway track nearby divided us between  two districts.  Walking about two hundred meters one would reach the main road – the bus plying road, though there was not too many buses.

I was barely 7 years old  and was not supposed to cross the main road. Thus the only Durgapuja arena  I was allowed to go was this Pal Durga Bari.  Pal Residence was a huge mansion, with many rooms, complete with a large play ground, two ponds and several shops. Central to the mansion was this Durga Bari with a large courtyard.


The festivity used to begin  two weeks before the start of the Durgapuja at this Pal Durgabari.  Image makers from distant Kumartuly (prime image makers colony) arrived with the raw  image structure made of wood, straw and  bamboo sticks. The image makers photo2488at first pasted clay on the structure, allowed it to dry and then  paint the entire image with white paint.  It took several days. I, along with boys of similar age, gathered daily, quite  early in the morning,  to watch the act patiently.  We used to spend hours here and could really feel the festive mood in the air. The image being made was Ek-Chala ( mono-structure), meaning multi-images placed in one large structure.  Within a few days  images were re-painted in  different bright colours and decorated with silver coloured foils.

photo2481Finally there was this day of creating the eyes of the images.  This was the time when the images was put under a white curtain and only the chief image artist was  allowed to cross the curtain to draw the eyes, the last act of the image creation. Normally this special act was done at late night. The next morning we all used to rush to see the all-complete image, and, every year we were mesmerized by seeing the glittering colours of the creation. Watching image making always was an


Chandrapuli Sweet

interesting part of the celebration, and we surely got the same thrill year after year.

From Shosthi Day, the Pal Durgabari became a crowded arena. Many relatives of the family gathered together, and,  the local neighbours joined too. There was now Dhakis (drum beaters) playing different rhythms at regular intervals.  Some enthusiastic urchins performed spontaneous  group dances.

At the end of the Pal Mansion was Noni Babu’s sweet shop. Noni Babu too belonged to the Pal family. We used to walk up to the shop to buy two specific sweets, specially made for Durgapuja festival.

Naarkol Chhapa – a round white sweet made of lot of sugar and some bits of coconut, with a dash of camphor. The price?  32 pieces per Rupee (you read it right !)

Chandra Puli – a moon-shaped, camphor flavoured,  yellow sweet made of refined sugar and finely ground coconut, costing  16 pieces per Rupee.

I and my group-mates  belonged to middle class families and our humble budget for the festival would normally be around half a Rupee a day. Thus we would spend about two anaas (one fourth of our daily budget) at the Noni babu’s shop.

In the afternoon there would be Vastra Daan (cloth distribution) when a large number of  local poor men and women would make a  long que to receive the gift.

Pal Durga Bari is celebrating the Durgapuja for 140 years now. During this year’s  Durgapuja, to re-live the nostalgia, I took my grandson to the arena. The celebration is more pompous now with more colourful lighting added. The long duration image making function is now replaced with a short duration act – with only the add-ons like eyes drawing, foil decoration on the images are done at the arena.

photo2487Noni Babus sweet shop is now an image making shop –run by his grand sons (all of them are reputed image artists). I introduced my grand son to one of them (my child-hood buddy!) who was present at home during our visit !


(Noni Babu’s Family Durgapuja is now held at the closed down sweet-shop)