Durga Puja, the Worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga, Returns to Calcutta, India (part 1)

Durga Puja, the Worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga, Returns to Calcutta, India (part 1)

The Durga Puja (Pujo in Bengali) is celebrated in various parts of India in different styles, but not on the grand scale of the Festival in Calcutta. This year’s celebration will be starting in a few weeks. I attended and photographed Durga Puja in Kolkata in October, 2011.

The days are long. The heat and humidity are oppressive; the crowds, claustrophobic. The sights, sounds, and smells can be overwhelming at times. In spite of and because of the difficult conditions Durga Puja was truly an experience of a life time.

Below is the first of a two part post on that event.

To be in Calcutta, now officially named Kolkata, India, for the Durga Puja was an amazing experience and a photographer’s dream. The Puja is the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga when she revisits earth for four days each year in October. The wife of Shiva, Durga has four children: Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya, and my favorite, Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity of wealth and success, who are depicted with her. The goddess Durga is usually portrayed as riding a lion, and carrying weapons in many of her ten arms and thus she is the ferocious protector of the righteous, and destroyer of the evil. The worship or Puja of the goddess Durga dates back to the late 1500s.

Today the Durga Puja is the celebration of the beloved Mother Goddess (Maa Durga) and is the highlight of Calcutta’s religious and social calendar. Think of celebrating Christmas and New Years all rolled into one and lasting about a week. The idols are displayed in private homes and in pandals, the huge temporary canopies – held by a framework of bamboo poles and draped with colorful fabric – that house the icons. Today these structures are innovative, artistic and decorative at the same time, offering a visual spectacle for the numerous visitors who go ‘pandal-hopping’ during the four days of Durga Puja. Their creation is very competitive and it could easily be said the Durga Puja in Calcutta has become the largest outdoor art festival on earth.

The idols are made in the settlement of Kumartuli, meaning “potter locality” in northern Calcutta from bamboo, straw, and clay. The entire process of creation of the idols from the collection of clay to the ornamentation is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals. On the Hindu date of Akshaya Tritiya when the Ratha Yatra is held, clay for the idols is collected from the banks of the Hougly River, a branch of the Ganges that runs through Calcutta. An important event is ‘Chakkhu Daan’, literally donation of the eyes. Starting with Devi Durga, the eyes of the idols are painted on Mahalaya or the first day of the Pujas. Before painting on the eyes, the artisans fast for a day. When completed, the idols are loaded on trucks with much noise and fanfare to be delivered and installed in the pandals.

Drumming is an integral part of the festival. Even a small pandal without the beat of drums is unimaginable. Dhakis are the traditional drummers who play the dhak (drum) at the pandals and during the festival processions. They are often landless peasants who live in the outlying areas. Durga Puja is a rare opportunity for them to earn cash.

Fresh flowers have a significant part in the festival and the wholesale flower market at Mullickghat, under Howrah bridge, is crowded with vendors and buyers. Garlands of marigolds, lotus blooms, and roses all have a role in the ceremony and celebration of the Puja. The Kabapatrika, a bundle of nine plants including a banana leaf representing the nine goddesses of the Durga Puja and a vital part of the ritual, are assembled and sold as well. See below.


The Kabapatrika is placed in a pot and wrapped in a sari and taken to a ghat along the Hougly to be bathed. The procession with a priest carrying the nabapatrika, preceded by dhakis and followed by the women of the house blowing conch shells meanders through the streets to the river. After the bath the nabapatrika is returned to the site of the Puja, wrapped in its sari and placed to the right of the goddess. This is repeated over a thousand times throughout the city.

Be sure to watch for Part 2 next week.

Click here for free Durga Puja computer wallpaper.

Ron Mayhew

Fine Art Photographer specializing in Still Life and Commercial Photography.

This Post Has 33 Comments

  1. beautiful! I have more knowledge of gods and goddesses now 🙂

    1. Thanks Gigi. One can never have too much knowledge of stuff like that. Never know when you will need it. 😉

  2. Wonderfully captured! I have yet to witness ‘Pujo’ in Calcutta!
    Akshaya Tritiya is an auspicious festival in spring though. Just realised Wikipedia isn’t always right 🙂 The idols were traditionally started 15 days before the Puja, on the 8th day – Ashtami – of the previous (lunar) month, which would be the 8th of September this year. Although these days they start more than three months in advance to meet growing demand.

    1. Thank you Madhu for your comments and keeping me straight. It is all so fascinating but complex.

      I think I have it! Its “Pujo” in bengali and “Puja” everywhere else?

      1. Yes..you must be familiar with the Bengali accent by now 🙂 V is always changed to B and A to O!!

    1. Thank you for your comment an your visit.

  3. Spectacular photography, Ron. What a colourful festival! I look forward to your next batch of photos.

  4. Very enjoyable Ron.

    1. Thanks Tom and than you for visiting. How are things in Punta Gorda?

    1. Andy, thank you so much for your kind words and the reblog . I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. beautiful…the photos capture the spirit and the explanations are wonderful. And yes, Ganesha is my favorite as well!! Looking forward to part II. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Jane, thank you for your most encouraging comment. I hope you enjoy the second part as well.

  6. Oh my! How is it I hadn’t found your blog? So glad you stopped by for a visit at my blog so I could meet you. This is a beautiful post.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. The sentiment is mutual. Your blogging stamina is amazing.

  7. Here from the blog, Andy: Photographer, Traveller and Chef.
    I am from West Bengal but reside in St. John’s, Newfoundland at present. I haven’t been able to be home for Durga Pujo since 1999. Every year I look for photos mostly personal ones that capture the sentiment and anticipation of the Pujo so that I can live vicariously through them. They bring back memories and make me sad in a strange way… the kind of sadness that the heart desires in order to re live the happiness once past. So, thank you for these ‘living’ photographs.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the photos and hope they evoked fond memories for you. If so, that very much pleases me.

        1. Great. Thank you. Off to Kumbh Mela in Feb 2013!

    1. and need to now more details about durga lord

      1. The Puja is very complicated but oh so interesting. Thankyoufor visiting.

    2. You as so welcome. Thank you for your comment and for visiting.

  8. I missed going to Calcutta on Durga Puja for the first time this year since 2001. These pictures are so beautiful. It makes me feel slightly less bad about not being there in person. Thank you. You’ve capture the spirit wonderfully.

    1. Surya, I am happy you enjoyed the post. Durga is so magical, I understand why you miss it. Thanks for your comment.

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