The annual Hindu festival Durga Puja is the most-anticipated festival in Bengal. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and is meant to worship the goddess Durga over a period of ten days. The eighth day is the most auspicious and important day of the celebration when pandals, or designed shrines depicting the goddess, are displayed. There are thousands of Durga Puja pandals created throughout India, but a few tend to stand out more than others. The creators of the pandals compete with one other with innovative themes and materials. While some are highly traditional, others are more contemporary.
The charming city of Kolkata turns into a completely different place during Durga Puja. Pandals set up all across Kolkata and idols shining in their fine clothing and jewelry. The entire city lights up as if it is a work of art with decorations hanging over the streets and businesses. The city usually has more than 2,000 pandals located across different streets and communities per year. When you are in Kolkata, you can walk from one pandal to another and you will never run out of beautiful displays and things to see. You might even be asked to join in on some of the celebrations with the locals!
Another important place to celebrate Durga Puja is in Birbhum district in West Bengal. It is renowned for its unique culture and tradition and also for its festivities. Durga Puja in Birbhum is known for the closing ceremony, involving Baich khela. It is a competition among the village men carrying the idol of Goddess Durga and her companion icons on their shoulders throughout the town. It is accompanied by fanfare, firecrackers, lamps and drum beats. Birbhum lies at a distance of 116 miles from Kolkata and it is worth a visit during the days of Durga Puja.
Durgapur is at a distance of 105 miles from Kolkata and is another famous place for Durga Puja celebrations. The creation of the pandals for Durga Puja begins two months prior to the festival. The surrounding villages of Gopalpur and Kuldiha are worth taking the time to visit in order to see the pandals. Durgapur is popular for the many cultural shows and plays it hosts during the festival, which are based around the significance of each of the eight days according to mythology. These attract tourists from all across the country and are becoming more popular with foreign travelers. If you want to know the rich culture and history of Durga Puja, you have to visit Durgapur to see it at its best.
The celebration of Durga Puja in Howrah is slightly different. You will be able to observe the rituals conducted at every pandal and by each family. The people of Howrah are happy to welcome you into their homes in order for you to experience the holiday yourself. Howrah is located on the banks of Hoogli river and is also known as Kolkata’s twin city. These pandals are life-sized and take over the entire city during the days of the festival.
Siliguri is another place to visit in West Bengal during the celebration of Durga Puja. It is located at a distance of 360 miles from Kolkata and a visit during the festivities is worth every moment of spending time away from the main cities in India. There are hundreds of pandals across different parts of the city and you might want to take a tour by taxi to each part of the town in order to see the mesmerizing lights and colorful shrines. There are some communities in Siliguri that have been holding the festival of Durga Puja for the last 150 years or more.
One of the oldest regions in West Bengal, Cooch Behar is located 434 miles from Kolkata. It is most famous for the huge idol of the goddess Durga that is made entirely from clay and painted in vermillion red. The one of the unique features about the style of worship here is that there were once human sacrifices. This practice is no longer conducted, but it has given Cooch Behar a reputation in Bengal. Today, only a few drops of human blood are offered to the goddess, though animal sacrifice continues.
Bankura has gained prominence for the increased amount of tourist activity in the region. Located at a distance of 137miles from Kolkata, Bankura is a window to the rich culture and heritage of the area through dance, music, paintings, and other forms of art. The rich heritage of Bengal is also reflected in the festivities of Durga Puja that take place in this spot, including the fact that it is known to have some of the most beautiful pandals in the entire country of India.
One of the oldest Durga Puja celebrations is conducted in Chanduli. This city has a history of more than 350 years. The idol of the goddess worshipped here only has two hands as opposed to the usual display of an idol with ten. The rituals are followed as according to customs from long ago and both locals and tourists travel to Chanduli in order to see the city the city at its most vibrant.
The highlight of the annual festival in any location in India is visiting the many shrines by pandal hopping. There are thousands of pandals in Bengal spread across different parts of the state, and it’s a challenge to see them all. The most popular time to visit the pandals is during the night when everything is lit up.
Have you ever witnessed the celebrations of Durga Puja in India? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.
Header photo by Souvik Laha.