Introduction There is a popular saying in West Bengal that is "baro mashe tero parbon", which means there are thirteen festivals in twelve months. It is true that there are many occasions and Pujas celebrated in different parts of the state throughout the year, but the biggest of them all is the Durga Puja. Durga Puja is celebrated in autumn, during the month of September-October and everybody waits for this special occasion. Many Bengalis, who have a home in West Bengal but stay outside for work, come to their home during this time of the year to enjoy the Durga Puja along with their families. The whole state becomes vibrant during the five days of Durga Puja and the state capital Kolkata decks up for the occasion even four to five months earlier.
As long as you are not visiting Kolkata during the Durga Puja, it is impossible to feel the ambience of those five days. The city lights up in the most fashionable way and majority of the clubs celebrate Durga Puja throughout the city. The pandal hoppers visit the pandals in every corner to see the speciality of the idols and the decoration of the pandals. Nowadays, most of the big clubs organize theme based pujas but traditional pujas are also there. The pandal hoppers divide the five days of Durga Puja, according to their suitability, to visit the pandals in the northern part and southern part of the city and the hopping continues throughout the night.
Famous Pujas in the city Durga Puja is celebrated all over West Bengal and in Kolkata alone, there are close to 3000 pujas organized by different clubs throughout the city. Few of them win awards in different categories like best pandal, best idol, best theme, etc and every year big organizers plan different themes to attract crowds. In north and south Kolkata there are many famous pujas where crowds visit every year to experience the breathtaking pandals and idols. Here few of the famous pujas are described in brief to get an idea about the history and tradition associated with them.
Baghbazar Sarbojanin They celebrated their 100th puja this year. The people residing at Baghbazar, a prominent location in north Kolkata, started this puja in 1919 and at that time it was known as 'Nebubagan Baroyari Durga Puja'. The location of the puja premises shifted on a regular basis during the first few years and in 1929 there was an exhibition along with the Durga Puja. In 1930, under the guidance of Durgacharan Bandyopadhyay, who was the alderman of then Calcutta Municipal Corporation, took initiative to make the exhibition much bigger and he renamed the organization as 'Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsab and Exhibition'. Since then the puja is organized in the same premises where it is organized now.
Sovabazar Rajbari This is a palace, in Bengali known as Rajbari, of the Royal family of Sovabazar, a renowned location in north Kolkata, where Raja Nabakrishna Deb started the Durga Puja in 1757. This Durga Puja has a special tradition attached to it which is going on since the inception and visitors throng this palace every year to feel the atmosphere of the heritage. Lord Clive was one of the invitees in the first Durga Puja and many notable persons of that era used to be present there on those occasions.
Ahiritola Jubak Brinda Ahiritola is located in north Kolkata and the Durga Puja organized by Ahiritola Jubak Brinda is among the famous ones. Their Durga Puja is theme based and every year a new theme is conceptualized to give the ambience a special effect. Visiting their pandal should be there on the list when you are touring north Kolkata to see the Durga Pujas celebrated in the locality.
Mohammad Ali Park It is located near Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and renowned for its theme based celebrations. Situated in the northern fringes of the city, the Durga Puja was started by Youth Association at Tara Chand Dutta Street in 1969 and later shifted to Md. Ali Park. Since then, the Durga Puja is known by the name of the park and it has a special attraction among the pandal hoppers in the city.
College Square College Street in Kolkata is known as Boi Para, where you will find many bookstores, including a few renowned ones throughout the locality. The Calcutta University, Presidency College and many well-known schools are there in College Street and the Durga Puja is organized in College Square in that area. In 1948, they organized their first community Durga Puja and since then it has gained popularity. There is a long history associated with the celebration of Durga Puja by College Square Sarbojonin Durgotsab Committee which was founded by many renowned personalities and freedom fighters. There was a riot in 1946 and the senior members of every locality started the community Pujas to divert the youths from being involved in the riots. It is one such community pujas and you must visit it to get a glimpse of the beautiful idols and pandal decoration.
Santosh Mitra Square The Durga Puja is organized at Bowbazar area in central Kolkata and a pioneer in theme-based pandals. The Durga Puja started in Santosh Mitra Square or Lebutala Park in 1936 which was known as 'Sealdah Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samity', later, in 1996, it was renamed as 'Santosh Mitra Square Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samity'. Visitors throng this puja every year and there remain many more attractions along with the usual celebrations.
Deshapriya Park It is located in south Kolkata and among the prominent ones. You cannot miss this Durga Puja if you go to the southern parts of the city. You have to move with the direction of the crowds near the location and it will automatically lead you there inside the pandal. For the past so many years they are drawing visitors by advertising their special attraction well in advance throughout the city. In 2015, they attracted a huge crowd to have a glimpse of the 'World's tallest goddess Durga' of 80 feet. There was almost a stampede in the premises and the police had to shut down the puja because of the situation. The idol and pandal of the Durga Puja are always unique and finds its place in the list of awards.
Ekdalia Evergreen Club Situated at Gariahat, in south Kolkata, this club is organizing Durga Puja since 1943 and they are famous for modelling their pandals on different temples of India. The pandal decoration is always special and crafted with meticulous designs. They are awarded in different categories and this puja is among the favourite ones to the pandal hoppers.
Tridhara Sammilani This club started their first Durga Puja in 1947 and is among the best pujas in the city. They have a fascination for innovative themes for their pandals and idols and there is no dearth of ideas when it comes to execution of themes each year. You will be mesmerized by the ambience of this puja and wish to come here, again and again, every year to have a glimpse.
Maddox Square Ask any young person, who is a regular pandal hopper about the ambience of Maddox Square and I am sure you will be amazed by her/his expression. Situated in the Ballygunge area of south Kolkata, a visit to the Maddox Square Park is a must for the young generation because of the special adda (gossip) session around the park. Not only young, but you will also find many senior people wearing traditional Bengali clothes participating in the gossips. The puja is celebrated inside a spacious park and has enough space to hang around, which is one of the reasons for huge gatherings and is always a hot favourite among different age groups.
Suruchi Sangha Situated at New Alipore, in south Kolkata, the celebration of Durga Puja in Suruchi Sangha is in its 65th year. The theme-based puja attracts a crowd from distant places and finds a place in the awards' list. A crowd puller in a true sense and you are assured of getting impressed by the unique concept of the themes.
Naktala Udayan Sangha This is another famous club in south Kolkata, near Garia, which is organizing Durga Puja since 1986. For the past so many years they are presenting different themes and this puja remains in the choice list among the viewers. They are comparatively new but you will be amazed by the innovative themes they present during every pujas.
There is little to worry about foods and transport during the puja days You will find plenty of makeshift food stalls near all the famous Pujas throughout the night, but you have to choose cautiously what to eat when you plan for a whole night venture. You may find a few restaurants also at some prominent locations that will serve you beyond their usual time. Remember to make it lighter so that you can roam around freely without feeling a bit heavy.
The city remains congested because of the crowds during the puja days and if you plan to ride your car to visit different pandals then you have to move very wisely and choose a time when there will be fewer crowds. If you start at night by car, then there is a chance to cover many pandals. Otherwise, the best option for many pandal hoppers is the metro train. During the puja days, especially from Saptami to Nabami, the metro trains operate throughout the night till 4:00 AM in the next morning. These five days you will find long queues at every pandal and people from faraway places throng the streets to catch a glimpse of the idols.
Conclusion As I have already mentioned, there are around 3000 Durga Pujas organized throughout the city and in this article, only a few prominent ones are described. You will find a lot more pujas in the vicinity of the clubs that are mentioned here. You can follow the crowd too which will take you inside some other interesting pandals. If you have any confusion regarding the location of clubs that are organizing Durga Pujas, you will find a lot of policemen on the road managing the crowds and traffic. They tirelessly perform their duties during these five days and will definitely help you out to reach your destination.
In this article, the author has mentioned twelve famous and popular Durga Puja of Kolkata. Out of these twelve, the Durga Puja of Shobha BazarRajbari (Palace) is not a community Puja. It is organized by the descendants of Shobha Bazar royal family and is one of the oldest Pujas of Kolkata which is still continuing with traditional flavour.
I have been fortunate enough to visit almost all Durga Pujas mentioned in this article. As my maternal grandfather's mansions (three in total) are located very near to College Street, I have visited the Pujas of College Square, Santosh Mitra Square, Bagbazar Sarbojanin and Mohammad Ali Park. The College Square lake changes to a heavenly place during the Puja. The lightings and the pandal can't be described by me. TThe dazzling brilliance has to be seen to be believed. Bagbazar Sarbojanin still follows the traditional way of Puja. Santosh Mitra Square Puja is well-known for lightings and pandal. Mohammad Ali Park Puja used to arrange a carnival during the Pujas. But I don't know whether the carnival is still being held during the Puja.
When I reached my teenage, I started visiting the Puja pandals of South Kolkata (then Calcutta), although I am born and brought up in South Kolkata. The Puja of Ekdalia Evergreen gives a stiff competition to the famous Pujas of North Kolkata and Central Kolkata. This Puja is being organized by a very well-known political leader of West Bengal. The Pujas of Maddox Square and Deshopriya Park are also among the top Pujas of Kolkata. However, my special memory is for Suruchi Sangha Puja. I have spent many memorable days during the Pujas in this pandal (which is very near to my school) with my friends. I am feeling nostalgic thinking about those days. Incidentally, I first watched 'Jatra' (Bengali drama) in the ground of Suruchi Sangha.
The Durga Puja of Bengal is the biggest festival of the state. Not only Kolkata, but even the district headquarters and other towns of the state also showcase the best during the five days of Puja. The tourists can have a feel of Bengali creativity during these days.
The tourists may visit Durga Puja in Kolkata to have an unforgettable experience. However, they (the tourists) must be prepared to walk to enjoy the Pujas because the movement of vehicles during these days would be very slow and the vehicles are simply not allowed within 1 kilometre of the famous Puja pandals.
I thank the author for this excellent article.
Thank you, Mr. Partha, for reading the article. It is really interesting to know that you have spent a significant time in Kolkata and have seen all the Durga Pujas mentioned here in this article. Though I have given the description of only 12 famous Pujas, there are a lot more celebrated in different parts of the city. The experience of pandal hopping during the Pujas is always amazing and unforgettable. Since you have a Kolkata connection, hope you wish to visit the city too during Durga Puja.