The winter has started to settle in with its chills and cosy blankets. This has started our annual charade of bringing out the forgotten sweaters and blankets. As I pulled out the bag full of warmth from the box, I also went ahead with the heavy task of packing away the festive wears which have just returned from the dry cleaners. They reminded me of the festive month gone by, making the new bong nostalgic.
Many of us are still reeling under the hangover of this festive season. A month full of joy everywhere around. This took me back right to the start and the sound of Dhak started to resonate in my ears. With around three years of being married in a Bengali family, this was the first full-scale Durga puja I was about to witness, thanks to Covid of course.
With Mahalaya, began the spirit of Navratri to be celebrated across India in different ways. On the fifth day, Anandomela, home-made food festival, announced the onset of Durga Puja. From authentic Bengali food to all the north-Indian delicacies which teased our tongues with their flavours. My favourite was the Devil, the sumptuous egg preparation. Food was sold out within a few hours and latecomers definitely missed a great opportunity to satiate their appetite.
Days before the celebrations began, the spirit of the festival had taken over everyone’s heart. Taking my usual route on my evening walk I could see kids and adults alike painting the beautiful rangoli on the road leading to the pandal. The pandal had started to take shape, and the scaffolding was narrating the story of its upcoming magnificence.
The beautiful Aagomoni performance with the sound of Dhak in the background welcomed the Goddess Durga and thus began the saga of earnest prayers, charming festivities, delectable food, soothing music, enchanting dances and much more. This was the beginning of the festival that not only spoke about culture and religion but so much more about unity and sacrifice too.
Every morning, dressed up as a Bengali Bou, I offered our share of Pushapanjali. The resplendent idol of Maa Durga won the award for the best idol for all the right reasons. The beauty of the Goddess and the aura around left me mesmerized and a certain calm would fill my heart. One such experience was attending the Sandhi Puja, the transition from the Ashtami (eighth day) to Nabami (ninth day). Observing the spectacular ceremony left me exhilarated for sure.
Each day, as the sun would take over the day, we would drive around the whole NCR, hopping from one Pandal to another. Awe filled my soul when the magnificence of the idols touched my eyes.
The evenings were my favourite part of this five-day festival. I was amazed to see the performances of all the participants and the relentless efforts put in by everyone. It was heart-warming to see little kids braving the stage and giving spectacular performances. Dhunuchi Naach, another absolute favourite, is the one thing I had always looked forward to watching. The confidence with which the women in their ornate attires go ahead to dance on the beats of the Dhak is simply spell-binding. The effortless gait of the dance tells the onlookers about the limitless power that lies within.
The festival of absolute fun came to its closure on the day of Dashmi (tenth day / Dushera) with the ceremony of Sindoor Khela. All of the married Bengali women-folk came dressed in the traditional attire of Lal Par Sada Saree (White saree with Red border) to bid Maa Durga adieu by adorning her as a wedded woman. They then proceeded to apply sindoor to each other as well.
Later during the day, the idol of the Goddess was taken to the river for Visarjan and Bijoya Dashmi was celebrated thereafter. With a traditional feast at the end of the festival, the younger ones greeted their elders and sought blessings for the year ahead. Like everyone beside me, I could now feel and understand how and why everyone felt melancholic. And yes, so I did what every other bong does, googled the dates for the Pujo next year!