In Calcutta, there is a very imminent saying ‘baro mashe-e tero parbon’ which roughly translates to ‘thirteen festivals in twelve months’; so, as a child I grew up watching a lot of festivities around me, Durga Pujo being the most prominent one. The preparations of Pujo start more than a month in advance and as Mohalaya marks the beginning of Debi Pokhho; everyone slides into pujo-pujo bhab, literally translating to “festive mood” with a verbatim scent of celebrations in the air. As kids, we would all flock together at the Barowari pujo pandal organized by the para committee wearing crisp new clothes, lulling at the khichuri (Khichdi) bhoj for lunch and eating out for dinner.
Fun fact –
Barowari refers to the public organization of a religious or any other type of institution; however, overused in West Bengal with reference to Durga Pujo. Much before the 17th century, this festival was essentially conducted at the ancestral homes of the affluent Babus where many were not allowed to participate; that is when 12 Brahmin friends decided to institute a community puja and termed themselves “baro-yari” which are 2 Bangla words; baro meaning twelve and yari meaning a friendly connection.
It was only when I moved to Muscat at the age of 11 that I witnessed the magnitude of effort it took to plan, organize and execute a pujo; gave me real perspective of what is takes to make a Barowari pujo happen. I reminisce Baba and Mamma holding long late night meetings with other committee members at our house for more than 3 months before Pujo; they were in charge of collecting donations, booking the hall at the Shiva temple according to Pujo timings, deciding the menu for 2 meals per day for more than 500 people along with snacks and sweets, buying the innumerable puja necessities along with the much needed grocery for food and finally ensuring everything pans out cordially without letting anyone frown. 😊
Muscat was where I grew up but we would visit Calcutta every summer vacation, where it was normal to have more sweet shops than groceries on any lane you chose, gossip good-naturedly about other’s business, pray for a ‘bangla bandh’ to happen on a hot summer day. Suddenly it was acceptable to love and quarrel with equal ferocity, perhaps that’s the difference between a neighbourhood and ‘para’. Para is a system of congeniality where one can hold conversations across balconies and drop in one another’s house unannounced.
Shopping is an essential step before celebrations; I used to insist on my mother buying me 2 pairs of new clothes for each day of pujo; talk about being a shopaholic! Sananda (a popular Bangla magazine) showcased the in vogue Tant and Dhakai sarees with few kantha woven pieces and played a significant role in the seasonal buy. Gariahat and Hatibagan markets would be swelling with people almost crawling over one another, I was bought my yearly purchase of shoes from Khadim’s. I recall women engaging in loud bargains over crockeries, bed linens, terracotta jewelleries apart from clothes; this was a matter of shopping to last another year.
The idol for Durga pujo comprises of goddess Durga, her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati and her sons, Karthik and Ganesh. Durga is believed to visit her maternal home along with her children and this essentially means immense gathering with friends and family, night outs on the packed streets of Calcutta and guiltless gorging on mouth-watering food. The gastronomical pleasure begins way before pujo though, from eating Chelo kebab at Peter Cat to Mutton Rezala at Shiraz. The blinking lights put up for Durga Pujo broadening upto much after New Years’ at Park Street, keeps its teenage romance afloat; but it is not really about being young, it is about feeling young! I fondly recollect the visits to Oxford bookstore with Baba, a mandatory Flurry’s visit for their delectable cakes and Darjeeling tea with mamma, followed by Chinese food at Tung Fong.
I vividly remember visiting the pujo pandal at College Square, fondly termed as Boi (books) Para, but College Street’s appeal goes much beyond books. As a youngster we frequented these neighbourhoods for snacks, Sherbet at Paramount, Kabiraji at Dilkhush Cabin and Chicken cutlets with Fish Fingers and Cha (tea) at the Indian Coffee House at rock-bottom prices. I distinctly recollect getting separated from mamma in the crowd while visiting this pandal; Baba and I had to make a special announcement at the management counter to be reunited again, well that is a story for another day!
Celebrating Durga Pujo in Calcutta is least about being religious; it fundamentally strengthens the bond we share with our friends and family and gives us yet another reason to paint the town red and we Bengalis are very emotional about the whole process. It instills a faith for positivity, goodness and humility.
For us, it is very truly said, Pujo mane-ei (means) Calcutta!
Credit : https://www.amritanandi.com/post/pujo-mane-i-calcutta