Kolkata – HomeTown Culture et al

I am a Bengali, by birth and you might have heard the name of where I come from. My city is known for various things. There are usual cliches like the Durga Puja, the Football craze, the Culture loving etc. However, Kolkata, in its entirety does have some idiosyncrasies and a lot of character. Festivals are a part of every land and milieu, giving them an identity and accessibility.  People recognize cultures due to their festivals and here, a lot of celebration takes place during the months of September to November. That is the time when all the Pujas take place. Here, I am listing a few of those festivities as well as some other tidbits which fascinate me when I look out of my window.

  1. Laxmi Puja and Saraswati Puja – I decided to start to with this unlike the obvious ones due to the simple fact that this one is celebrated in a personal way for me. I was born in a New Age liberal minded Brahmin family. However, my father and his brother put sentiment over ideology and carried out a small celebration of sorts by hosting a personal Laxmi Puja inside our house. The precision in command over Sanskrit sloks are not monitored but it works as homage to my late grandmother who was quite religious. She never found a voice in a patriarchal family but her voice was very much heard during these small Pujas. I still remember when I was quite young, all the youngsters in the family like my cousin brother and me trying to rub sandal wood to make paste used for the ritual. The women of the family including my three aunts and mother gave the “Alpana” around the small stool on which the Protima or Sculpture of the deity was mounted. They also cooked ‘Bhog’ which basically stands for quite a large amount of wonderful Bengali food. It includes everything from Fish to Eggplants to ‘Khichdri’, a i.e. flavored spicy rice porridge. All the family came together and a lot of neighbors were also invited. Little girls to Old Women, all would Sarees and Men wore Punjabis. This basic format is still followed in my household till today and my mother has taken over the duties of my late grandmother. Infact, this ritual of having a Laxmi Puja inside a household is something quintessential to a Bengali Family. It is integral to the construction of a strong and healthy culture as well.
  2. Bhai-Phota’- This is another typically Bengali celebration which tries its best to demean sibling rivalry. Seriously, it celebrates sibling love. Usually, a sister says a well known Bengali verse and put a small mark with some sandalwood paste on the brother’s forehead, after offering a prayer for the brother’s safety. After that, gifts including fruits like Mangoes and Guavas as well as modern day additions like chocolates, books, gadgets etc. Young kids look forward to the occasion with great glee and excitement. I am a single child and sadly never got to experience this occasion to the full degree. I do have two cousin brothers but they went off to college at such a young age I have forgotten when the last time was they had been present for this.
  3. Rabindra Jayanti – This day and its celebration is absolutely restricted to West Bengal and more concentrated in the capital city of Kolkata, my home turf. It is a celebration of the birth anniversary of the world famous Bengali Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. Celebrations take place in the famous Tagore family house called “Jorashakho” where the building is decorated and a function takes place where various artists enact or sing Tagore’s songs or plays. Most offices grant a holiday on this eve and many Bengalis listen to or perform ‘Rabindrasangeet’ in their homes and public gatherings.
  4. Durga Puja – The big one. I guess whenever anyone things the world ‘Bengal’ some picture postcard images pop up like the Howrah Bridge and then followed by the face of Goddess Durga being worshipped. It is the biggest and grandest festival in the land and spreads almost all over India. However, the main heart of the festival takes place in Kolkata. There are pandals or huge make-shift structures made by almost every community or sometimes even individually for the usually four day festival. These pandals are often works of art and there are various prizes distributed depending on the excellence. Almost all of the state’s population comes to visit these Pujas and the city is decorated in beautiful lights.
  5. Bhashan’ – I am including this in the list even though it is considered a part of the Durga Puja festivities is because it has a special character which makes it uniquely stand out and become a spectacle in itself. Bhashan for me takes place at my friend’s house with a truck ride to the River Ganga bank where the Goddess is submerged in the water after the Puja ends. It takes place all around Kolkata and everywhere in the world where a Durga Puja takes place. Married women wear red and white sarees and splatter Sindoor on their skins after offering their last prayers to the Goddess and her family. Wearing Jewellery comes along the territory and often women and men dance infront of the Puja for celebration of the festival. It is a spectacle and attracts visitor in front of the Ganga from far and wide.

So here goes, my list. I have tried to be short and compact. It is hard to not go into the nitty-gritties due the personal background. Hope you guys like it.

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