See Durga Idols Being Made
The beautifully hadcrafted idols of Goddess Durga sure are stunning. However, you’ll appreciate them even more if you see the effort that goes into making them. Fortunately, this isn’t hard to do. The majority of them are crafted in one area — Kumartuli in north Kolkata, around 30 minutes drive from the city center. The name literally means “potter’s locality” and as it suggests, the area was settled by a group of potters. Nowadays around 150 potter families live there. If you go there on the occasion of Mahalaya (about a week before Durga Puja starts) you’ll be able to see the eyes being drawn onto the statues in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan.
Go Pandal Hopping
The highlight of Durga Puja is no doubt visiting the many different displays (pandals) of Goddess Durga, each with a unique theme or decorative style. This activity is commonly referred to a “pandal hopping”. There are thousands of pandals in Kolkata so it’s only possible to visit a fraction of them — and even then it requires a bit of strategic planning as they’re spread out all over the city. You’ll find the most well known ones in north and south Kolkata, which is conveniently connected by the Metro railway. The most popular time for pandal hopping is in the night when they’re lit up. If you go during the day, you can avoid much of the crowd.
Experience a Traditional Bonedi Bari Puja
While Kolkata’s public Durga pujas tend to get all the attention, the traditional “Bonedi Bari” pujas in the city’s palatial old private mansions are also really worth experiencing. The mansions belong to affluent aristocratic zamindar (landowner) families who have been carrying on the pujas for centuries. They’re spread out across Kolkata (as well as other major towns in Bengal). Two of the most famous ones are Sovabazar Raj Bari and Rani Rashmoni Bari in north Kolkata. Lets Meet Up Tours runs full-day Bonedi Bari Tours to these and more. West Bengal Tourism also conducts bus tours. About an hour and a half south of Kolkata, the superbly restored Raj Bari is holding a grand royal Bonedi Puja. Advance reservations are required to attend. Alternatively, South Bengal State Transport Corporation operates bus tours to the Raj Bari puja and others south of Kolkata.
Participate in the Kumari Puja
The Kumari Puja is another significant ritual that’s performed during the Durga Puja festival. During the festival, Goddess Durga is worshiped in various forms. In this ritual, she’s worshiped the form of an innocent young unmarried virgin girl. This serves as reminder that the goddess and her energy are omnipresent in all beings. Belur Math in Kolkata holds an extensive program of rituals for Durga Puja, including a special Kumari Puja.
Witness Durga Idols Being Made
On the last day of Durga Puja, known as Dashami, the festivities commence with married women placing red sindoor (powder) on the idols of Goddess Durga. They then smear it on each other. In the evening, the idols are immersed in the water. One of the most popular immersion points is Babu Ghat (centrally located near Eden Garden), although you’ll be able to catch the action at any of the ghats along the river. An excellent way of seeing it is by boat. West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation conducts special immersion boat cruises down the river. Otherwise, head to Red Road, which cuts through the Maidan, to watch the Durga idols being taken in procession to the ghats as revelers chant, “Aasche bochor abar hobe!” (It’ll happen again next year!).