Think Durga Puja and your mind will be filled with images of beautiful sari-clad women praying to a larger-than-life Durga idol, elaborate processions, delicious bhog, Notun Jama(new clothes are a must for Durga Puja), hopping from one pandal to the other and the essential dancing to the beat of the dhaak.
Durga Puja, also known as Sharadotsav, is one of the biggest festivals of India, and is a celebration of the sacred feminine. While it is most significant in West Bengal it is celebrated with equal fervor in the states of Odisha, Tripura, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Like most festivals, Durga Puja too celebrates the triumph of good over evil, symbolised by goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon called Mahisura.
The festivities are spread out over a six day-long period, observed as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Bijayadashami.
Mahalaya is the first day of the festival and marks Goddess Durga's descent on Earth and this heralds the beginning of Durga Puja and Bijayadashami is the final day, when Goddess Durga supposedly returns to her abode.
We spoke to Bengalis living away from home about their Durga Puja highlights, at home
and away, here's what they had to say:
Sutikshya Mallik, a Kolkata local living in Mumbai says, "It's Durga Puja, and yet again I will be sitting in front of my laptop doing a monotonous job. For me, Durga Puja is incomplete without reunions and food."
Sutikshya talks about the tug-of-war between North and South Kolkata for the best pujas, but she recommends visiting Surichi Sangha, Ekdalia Evergreen Park, and Singhi Park. As for North Kolkata, College Square Pandal is the place to be., and eat at one of the old- world charm restaurant – Coffee House. PS: Don't forget to try those scrumptious fish Kabiraji, sandwiches and cold coffee.
For Sutikshya, one of the prominent Durgatsab in Kolkata is Kumartuli Park, and close to that is the most famous place for kosha mangsho – Golbari in Shayambazar.
Sutikshya says, "I visit the MSDSS, Poonam Nagar for offering Anjali on the Ashthami. When you see spot many 'Bengali' faces, a sense of gratitude for finding a new home in a strange city pops in."
Sudip Putatunda, a Kolkata local living in Mumbai frequents the pandals at Shivaji Park, Tulip Star (Juhu) and Lokhandwala but he likes the Pujo Bhog at Tejpal Hall, it is his favourite place to offer Prayers and Anjali, but he prefers the Lokhandwala pandal for the eating stalls and the chaos and fun that comes during pujo time. He adds, "As a probashi(non-resident) Bengali I feel left out of the Pujo atmosphere back in Bengal as well as our family Pujo which is more than 100 years old. However, my family and I make up for it with plenty of new clothes, late night pandal hopping and unending food."
However, he recommended the lesser-known puja organized by Ram Krishna Mission Khar for a quiet devotional time.
Moushumi Pal, another Kolkata local living in Mumbai admits that in Mumbai the crazy madness of Durga Puja Pandal-hopping is very high. She observes, "People don't mind travelling for hours to see the pandals."
For her, Andheri Lokhandwala Durgotsav by singer Abhijeet , the north Bengal Durga pujo by the Mukherjee family are the top-picks. She says, "These two have a crazy footfall because of the frequent appearances of Bollywood celebrities like Kajol, Rani Mukherjee,Tanisha etc. It's not just the puja rituals, but also the bhog, that's a hit."
But she also likes the pandals at Powai and Vashi Durgotsav because of the modernized décor they choose from Kolkata temples.
She does relish the pujo bhog at Shivaji Park and Ramakrishna mission, but as a true Bengali she looks forward to the non-vegetarian Bengali cuisines available during the puja at the various food stalls.
She says, "It comprises of fish fry, egg, chicken and mutton rolls, biryani and egg and mocha i.e. banana flower chops."
While Moushumi has been away from home for almost 18 years, she admits that the warmth around in Mumbai makes it an awesome place to celebrate.
She concludes, "The city has its own charm and there isn't a moment where one feels lonely. But the only thing I miss is celebrating with family and childhood memories.
Sulagna Chatterjee, Kolkata local in Mumbai moved to the city that never sleeps in 2008, having spent her childhood in Kolkata she found it hard initially as her exams would be during puja, "That was blasphemous, I remember crying my heart out the first year. However, you start getting used to it."
It was only five years ago that she and her family started their own puja in Kandivali, "Thakur Village is like the CR park of Mumbai. So we got permission from the BMC to do a pujo here. So now, it's like home. Since it happens right next to my house, I wake up to the music of the dhaak. And that's a real blessing."
Top picks for Mumbai:
Shivaji Park Durga Puja: Located in Dadar, this is famous for being the oldest in the city. And while it may not be a big pandal or rich in decoration, what is the crowd-pulling factor here is the food court. You get to taste the Bengali sweets and pick up traditional sarees and jewellery from this place.
Ramakrishna Mission: You can go to this place for its authentic bhog served in the afternoon located in Khar.
Lokhandwala Durga Puja: The pandal is popularly known as 'Abhijeet's Pujo'. For celeb-spotting, cultural events, and food court, this is a must visit! And the bhog here is served with a lot of warmth and affection.
Powai Bengali Welfare Association: You will spot various food stalls and a beeline for the chops, cutlets, Mughlai Parathas, biryanis, and other goodies, that makes Mumbai 'mini-Kolkata' for some time.
Vashi & Sector 15 Durga puja: Located near ICL School in Vashi, you will find everything from chicken rolls, Mughlai parathas, rosogulla to and Kolkata's very own biryani.
However, it is a bit pricey.
For unique Durga Puja recipes read Mallika Basu's article to rediscover lost treasures. Recipe here