Having grown up in Kolkata (then Calcutta), Durga puja has always been a special time for me. It’s more than a religious festival for Bengalis - it’s about celebrations, new clothes, pandal hopping and food. Lot’s of food. In the time I was still in Calcutta (its been 18 years) that was what it was. So, this time when we made a sudden plan, I wanted to see Durga puja in a new light and capture it the best I could. All images shot on my Nikon D500 with the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 lens.

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Kumortuli

This is where it all begins from around June/July. I have been there in the past, but never had a camera with me. And this time I was late, but still managed to capture a few idols making their way to their home.

A labourer takes an idol to her destination. Smaller idols are placed on a bamboo frame and pulled through the narrow streets to a waiting mini truck. While a boy looks on in excitement as his family prepares to take the goddess home. Potters meanwhile work on lakshmi idols. Lakshmi pujo follows a week after Durga pujo, and then Kali pujo. The work must go on.


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Kola bou Snan

The first major ritual of durga pujo. The Kola bou is the plant form of Durga (and not the bride of Ganesha as widely believed) formed by tying eight types of plants to a young banana plant. This group of nine plants or “naba patrika” constitute the Kola bou.

All photos here shot at Mallick Ghat near the iconic Howrah Bridge (official name: Rabindra Setu). While the rituals can be observed at any of the many ghats along the Hooghly, I chose Mallick Ghat as it gives the opportunity to shoot with the iconic structure as a backdrop. Another alternate would have been the Princep Ghat where you would have the other bridge as the backdrop.

Also, Mallick Ghat is home to (probably) the largest flower market in India (and by some reports, Asia). While the morning chaos here is a daily occurrence, the mayhem takes another level on the pujo mornings.

For more photos of Mallick Ghat flower market and the rituals check out these posts:

  1. Mallick Ghat flower market

  2. Kola Bou Snan - Durga Puja


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The Art

The image on the right is not a house. It’s a pandal made just for a few days. The art and themes also make their way to the construction of the idols.

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Idols from across Kolkata. While themes play an increasingly important role in the design of idols, traditional styles still survive.

the pandals and their themes

From recreating a zamindar’s house to a step-well to a Rajasthani haveli including a sheesh-mahal to more esoteric ideas. Pandal themes know no bounds today.


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traditions

Durga puja is after all a religious festival - though it is today much more, and primarily so, than that. To observe the many rituals of the puja, the best option is to visit one of the many pujas performed in the private homes of the erstwhile zamindars and rich (bonedi bari’s) - some of them with a history of 200-300 years. The more public fares allow one to observe the same at a larger scale.

 

Bonedi Bari pujas of north kolkata


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Visarjan

All good things must come to an end. It is time to bid the goddess goodbye (and wish her happy journey). Asche bochor abar hobe - she will be back next year.