2nd October ‘ 2014
After two days of utmost joy, the delightful Maha Ashtami, also known as Durga Ashtami had arrived. The plan was set. Making the Ashtami morning in Kolkata without making it to Belur is nothing but a pity. We got ourselves ready by 6:30 a.m., knowing we had to leave early. But little did we know that we were going to take home the most beautiful memory with us. I had heard a lot, about the place though. But Rohit, my partner in crime, was sitting clueless, as we drove ourselves to Belur.
Google told us that “Devotees gather in thousands from across the country and abroad at Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, to watch ‘Kumari Puja’ or the worship of a pre-pubescent girl on Maha Ashtami of Durga Puja”. But witnessing all of this with our own eyes would be bigger than a feast.
As we were trying to take out the camera from our bag, which was also a big deal in this massive crowd, we spotted the 5 year old girl in red saree sitting beside the Durga idol, where she was worshipped by the pujari amidst sound of dhak. Later all the senior swamis including the president Maharaj offered her pranam. Swami believed, it is worshipping God in living mother form. Starting at 9 am in the morning the Kumari puja lasted for 45-50 minutes. As we tried to overhear some of the Maharajjis speaking amongst themselves, we got to know that it was important that the girl should be Brahmin by birth and the parents have strong spiritual background.
The meaning of ‘crowd’ became crystal clear after coming here. People had thronged from all over Bengal,Dhaka & even abroad to enjoy this mega carnival. For those who couldn’t manage to seek a place in this vast crowd, the live telecast of the Pujo was been shown on a big screen outside. The sight of thousands of people gathered in this lovely peaceful ground of Belur was truly a treat to watch. We walked all over the place, clicking innumerous pictures capturing emotions of people ranging from 2-yr old to 92-yr olds. The scenic beauty of Ganges across the ghats of Belur mesmerized us once and for all.
A beauty of silence had taken over the massive crowd which had gathered to watch Kumari Pujo at Belur Math on Ashtami. Dakshineshwar was the next halt. We didn’t want to leave Belur at all. But we moved on, promising ourselves to visit this occasion again next year. Before we drove there, the most delicious breakfast, Ghooghni Puri (Puri and chana) was waiting for us, just outside the gates of Belur. We gulped down 5 puris each, still not feeling content. The stall was run by a local Bengali, who had to work with double the pace, as it was Maha Ashtami.
As we were driving out of Belur, we drove for nearly 10 minutes to still see the line for Bhog continue in full swing. Haha! It’s crazy to see people standing in queues which will not end by even evening for sure. I think the last man standing will be receiving the Ashtami Bhog on Navami morning.
Not long after we realized that we had actually spent the most splendid morning, Dakshineshwar opened gates for us. Having ourselves out at a relatively less crowded place than Belur, we thought we could Mukh darshan the Kali thaakur sitting inside the temple. But we were wrong ! To our amazement, the queue for this one was even longer than that of Belur Bhog. Time had left us with no choice, but just to move around the temple, click a few snaps & leave for Kalighat, our next pitstop. Hey No ! Wait ! We did our our first shopping from here itself. We bought 2 blocks of Sandalwood for 90Rs. each. I remember it exactly because we were sniffing it for fragrance all throughout the day.
Kalighat, known for being one of the 51 “Shakti Peetha” (“Seat of Primordial Feminine energy”) is possibly the most revered shrines in the city, located on the Banks of Hoogly river and visited by millions of tourists every month. But none of these facts bothered us much. Maybe because it was the 3rd day of Pujo and we had experienced a multitude of people at various iconic places already. As we walked through shops trading in materials required for worship like vibrant flowers and vermillion, selling religious souvenirs such as trinkets, conch shells, sanctified bangles, we forgot to notice that the queue for darshan here was even longer than that of Dakshineshwar. Lol ! Things on this very awaited auspicious day were actually getting bigger and better.
While the others were sweating in long queues, two smart people,namely Soham & Rohit, who came from Mumbai & Bangalore respectively managed to sneak into the fast track line by paying off the people responsible for taking us for the darshan. The darshan was epic. We paid 200Rs. each for less than 5 minutes. The guide took us through a crazy shortcut which made us jump from various places, making it easy to mukh-darshan the Goddess Kali. Stop ! I gotta tell you something awesome ! The funniest thing on this entire 5-day journey happened right here, at the temple. The crazy guide lured us in the name of our family and forced us to take either our soulmate/wife’s name 5 times and repeat his verses twice, banging our head against the wall. He promised that if we could bring them here again, our love would last forever. I am sure he would be happy to charge us even more the next time we bring them with us. It was so random. I almost laughed my head off.
Local orchestras had started to appear as we proceeded towards Bagbazaar Sarbojanin Durgotsav, one of the major attractions of North Kolkata. Umm..Wait ! On the platinum jubilee of Bagbazaar, as a true Bengali, it’s my duty to tell you something, which perhaps may not interest you that much. Apart from the out-of-the-world theme-Pujos, some of the Durga Pujos are never themed as they are always celebrated the Shabiki (traditional) way. Bagbazaar was one of them. However, most of them look forward to the former rather than the latter.
Hey ! What’s happening now ? Oh Lord ! Please help ! Just a moment ago, it was all OK. The ground was suddenly pouring down with rain. Rain stoppage gave us some time to have some tasty momos at one of the stalls. So even though our legs got wet, our stomachs were happy. But we wanted the raindrops to disappear as soon as possible. Looking up at the sky, I yelled, “Dadu kichhu kauro !” (“Dadu do something !”) Both residing in heaven, my grandpa & Rohit’s grandma had some discussion with God, making things alright soon. Thanks to both of them, the sky was clear & we were on our way again.
Soon after we woke up from a short nap in the car, we realized that “Party toh abhi shuru hui hai !”. We had done some brilliant batting since morning, scoring almost all the Pujos decided for that day. But it was still “GAME ON”. The next pandal in line was definitely worth a million views. None other than Tridhara Sammilani Durgotsav, truly one of the best Pujas this year. This tibetan influenced pandal made its presence felt by red and black demons, all covered up with innumerous bangles & chains. The Durga here was totally spectacular, having more than a hundred arms to herself. The flamboyance of colours, reflected by the carnival nature of this huge-scale Pujo left us completely spellbound.
It was just 7:30 p.m. on the clock and we had clearly overdelivered. The run-rate was good & the surface was even better. We had exceeded our expectations to cover almost everything that went past us. We could set ourselves loose now, not having to worry about our bucket list anymore. We were wandering our way through the gullies of North Kolkata, finding something interesting at every corner. “Duggaa, Duggaa… Duggaa, Duggaa”. We could hear sounds of arti all over the city now. Glittering shaabiki Pujos, created by the local lads seemed to have brought new life into these cramped lanes. On the way back to our car, we saw a huge mob centered around the famous “Dhunuchi” dance, a prime example of creating collective cultural identity among all Bengalis.
It was 8 O’clock in the evening. The afternoon session was over. It was time for a short drinks break. We moved to our room, freshened up a bit, gathered the lost energy & once again started our game. Being a true resident of Parnashree, it was the right time to explore some local Pujos of Behala. As we moved our way forward, chatting about how Kolkata managed to pull off this carnival in such a grand style, we saw the entire crowd proceeding towards one direction. Everybody was running towards the same direction. We enquired if some celebrity had landed up there. But No ! It seems this was the queue for Behala Natun Dal, the new competitor in the Durga Pujo Market. Obviously without a doubt, we stood in the queue, wondering why there was so much hue and cry for a newcomer. It took us about half an hour to reach there.
The religious aura of Natun Dal held us spellbound. Oh Mann ! It is so noisy out here that neither Rohit nor me could hear each other. Just go with the flow. Yess ! There’s the giant cave ! That must be the one ! The wait was finally over & we had entered the cave which took us forward. There were so many people forcing their bodies forward that even the giant cave was looking so narrow. We had literally surrendered ourselves to the crowd. First came the cold vibes. There was snow from top to bottom. Then a sudden transition. It was hot now. We didn’t know exactly what was happening. We took a 360 degree to find only artificial flames of fire all around us. When we went inside, it was just to die for. By GOD !!! How on earth did they someone even make this possible. It’s hard to explain but we could actually see moving lanterns in circular orbits all over the space. “Rank 1, without a doubt” Rohit exclaimed. It is still hard to digest how incredible the entire set up was.
Natun Dal was a six out of the park. To park more such sixes on the next day, we decided to have a sumptuous dinner with Mutton Kebab and Chicken tikka Biryaani. It was the heaviest meal in our entire journey. Our bodies felt reluctant to move. We didn’t want to doze off on the footpath. So we decided to Cycle Rickshaw. A brilliant innings played by us today. Both of us remained not out. Day 3 ended with a sound sleep.