Every year Kolkata and the rest of Bengal comes alive in all its grandeur during the annual Durga Puja celebrations. This is the greatest festival of the Bengalis and over the past couple of decades, the Durga Puja celebrations have evolved so much so that today, if any discerning international traveler happens to visit the City of Joy – Kolkata during the the Durga Puja period, he or she will witness nothing short of a mega carnival on the offing.
Mother goddess Durga is the very embodiment of “shakti” - the divine feminine energy that presides over the whole cosmic creation. It is believed that goddess Durga is the personification of all energies of the gods, inclusive of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, to annihilate the demon Mahishasura who otherwise would never have been defeated by any gods. In a way, she is compassion personified and the savior of the universe. Durga is existence-knowledge-bliss and she is independent from the universe of ours while at the same time, she is also the tender mother of Ganesha and Kartikeya, and is thus perceived as the demon anihilator - Parvati.
The Bengalis rever mother goddess Durga with tremendous fervor during this all important festival, which literally ushers the commencement of autumn and occurs usually in the months of September or October. In Kolkata and Bengal, this festival occurs from day six through ten of the Navratri. On the tenth day, which is referred to as the “Bijoya Dashami”, Durga's triumph over evil is celebrated and intriguingly coincides with the Dussehra in North India wherein people celebrate Lord Rama's victory over the superdemon Ravana as depicted in the Ramayana. Their is also another school of thought among the Bengalis, who regard Durga Puja as the time when Ma Durga and her children come to their ancestral home, and her subsequent reunion with Lord Shiva on the day of Vijayadashami.
This year the festival will commence from 18th to 22nd of October. Elaborately decorated “pandals”, or makeshift temples made of bamboo and cloth, are erected in all major city squares to house the idols. Over the years, these lavishly doneup pandals have evolved, which are in perfect sync with the contemporary world and each year there is fierce competition among neighborhood puja pandals and puja themes. In the past, themes have ranged from the ancient Egyptians to the bombing of the World Trade Center, all depicted through state-of-the-art lighting and other hi-tech parphernalia. These days, the more popular community pujas in Kolkata even have corporate sponsorship to boost up their innovation streak.
First time visitors to Kolkata would do well to coincide their visit to the city during the Durga Puja festival. The Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal organizes a bewildering array of “Puja Parikrama Tours” that takes the visitors to all the important Puja pandals of the city and beyond. Of late, Puja by the River Ganga, wherein travelers are provided with the option of partaking in the festivities while cruising along the river Ganga onboard luxury cruiseliners.