India : Kolkata # 1 Durga Puja Festival

Together with a small group of fellow Aussies, I flew to Kolkata on 8th October, 2013. Known as Calcutta during the British Raj,  Kolkata is the capital city of the Indian State of West Bengal.  It’s the third most populous city in India after Mumbai and Delhi.   Roughly 4.5 million people cram into the inner city area whilst the total population for the city and its suburbs is over 14 million, a number that is constantly growing.

P1000183  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000183 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s not surprising that the air was not clear over a city of this size.


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P1000114 © DY of jtdytravels

For those who have never been to India, arrival in Kolkata can be quite a daunting process.  And on that day, the streets were even more chaotic than normal.  Our arrival coincided with the beginning of the Durga Puja – the most important festival of the year for the Hindus of Kolkata.  This festival, which has its origins in Medieval times, is celebrated particularly in the NE states of India.  It’s a five-day annual holiday which worships the Hindu goddess Durga who defeated the evil buffalo. In essence, it celebrates the victory of Good over Evil.


P1000115  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000115 © DY of jtdytravels

The usual population of fourteen million, swells by another 7 million people for this festival as people from many miles around arrive and depart each day to attend that day’s activities!    Welcome to the colour, the noise, the smell, the chaos of India!


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P1000062 © DY of jtdytravels

The Festival is a good excuse, if you need one, to buy some new clothes…


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P1000057 © DY of jtdytravels

… and maybe some shoes.


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P1000084 © DY of jtdytravels

And if you’d rather not wear shoes, why not paint your feet!


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P1000137 © DY of jtdytravels

There was a happy atmosphere and many of the locals were welcoming of tourists like us.


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P1000135 © DY of jtdytravels

Statues of Durga are made on bamboo frames which are covered with mud taken from the Hoogley River that runs through the city.  Cloth that is impregnated with this mud is used to bind and hold the whole thing together.  It is then painted white before being lavishly painted in bright colours.  Originally, Durga was always depicted with her four children, and sometimes with a couple of other deities.  Nowadays, separate statues are prepared.  These statues can be a couple of metres high.


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P1000151 © DY of jtdytravels

Many such statues are made in various places across the city.  They may even be embellished with tiny LED lights.  But all of these wonderful creations have a very short life.  For, at the end of the festival period, they are each carried to the banks of the Hoogley River where they are ceremoniously committed to the already muddy waters.  And the process of designing and preparing next year’s Durga statues begins again almost immediately… even bigger, ever better and, certainly, brighter.



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P1000131 © DY of jtdytravels

So many devotees visit Kolkata to view the statues and light displays that special bamboo barricades are erected to control the crowds.


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P1000134 © DY of jtdytravels

The footpaths are divided into male and female sections!  These barricades effectively double the width of the footpaths which, in turn, narrows the road by a car width. This just adds to the already very congested roads.


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P1000146 © DY of jtdytravels

Today, modern trappings added to this ancient festival include a variety of displays using coloured LED lights.


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P1000152 © DY of jtdytravels

With lights, music and dance being such an important part of the festival, most activity occurs at night when the crowds fill the streets from around 17h30.  From then on, they just wander around the sights until late.


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P1000085 © DY of jtdytravels

We were certainly not the only ones to be fascinated by the evening’s events.   It’s said that the Durga Puja is the largest outdoor art festival in the world.   It’s a chaotic, happy festival.   What an introduction to !ncredible India.

More anon


all photographs Copyright ©  David Young  of  jtdytravels

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