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Are your Non-Bong friends again asking why DURGA PUJA is such a big deal for you? This is the post you throw at them to explain! BOLO DUGGA MAI KI...

Durga Puja. Bongfeed,com
Durga Puja. Bongfeed,com

Durga Puja – these two words are trending all over again and we Bengalis are on the verge of another week of mass euphoria! And again, like every other year, all our non-Bong friends are going to ask us the same damn questions –

  • WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT YOUR DURGA MATA KA PUJA DUDE?,
  • IT’S LIKE BANGALIYON KA DIWALI RIGHT?
  • HAR SAAL CHUTTI KYUN LETE HO YAAR? IT’S JUST A RELIGIOUS JAI-MATA-DI TYPES AFFAIR RIGHT?

Oh come on already….. You would think that social media and us Bengalis’ collective craziness globally would have awakened the world to the phenomenon that is Durga Puja! No ma’am/sir. We still need posts like these to shine the divine light of MAA DUGGA on these dimwits. So here are just a few reasons why Durga Puja is the best street festival in the whole damn world.

THE ATMOSPHERE – The background

Bengal lies at the head of one the sultriest & most humid bays in the world. Hence, 9 of the 12 months a year, we spend drenched in sweat, with our armpits smelling like pig’s hinds & run our ACs like they produce oxygen. Autumn (or SHOROT in the Bengali) is the hint of the humidity receding and slowly turning into the much loved winters. The pristine blue skies with tufts of cottony clouds and the softly swaying strands of KAASH PHOOL (if you don’t know what that is, go ask a Bong & see her tearing up!) just make our hearts go JIYO PAGLA! The author of this post is ready to bet top dollar that the picture below will make every Bengali heart flutter for a moment!

Kashphul. Source ~ Flickr
Kashphul. Source ~ Flickr

THE TRAILERS – The anticipation

Yes, Durga Puja is the main event but there are a couple of trailers to heighten the anticipation. First there is Biswakarma Puja. And then there is MAHALAYA. The sweet strain of MAHISHASURAMARDINI (the link takes you to a page with the recording. You are welcome!) at 4 A.M. in the morning on the radio and then the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, is what Bengali pre-puja dreams are made of. This is the final call from home to every Bengali across the globe to come back to where her/his heart belongs. This day also sees PITRI-TORPON – when our elders go knee deep into the Ganges and offer our ancestors a loving respect. Ever heard of a festival having trailers? Naah….

Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Source ~ Youtube
Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Source ~ Youtube

THE DURATION – The rare good thing that lasts

So Durga Puja (or DEBIPOKKHO) officially (as in in the almanac) starts right after Mahalaya and lasts for 10 days. But owing to leaves and what not, we Bengalis actually celebrate it from the sixth to the tenth day – that is, 5 solid days of unbridled, uncontrolled, no-holds-barred, no-parental-supervision kinda excitement. And unlike most other festivals, this is 24 hours of being on the streets.

Durga Puja friends
Durga Puja friends

INCLUSION – All are welcome!

Durga Puja is not just another religious festival. It’s social, it’s celebratory and it’s one hundred percent inclusive. Everyone’s welcome. We won’t say much but watch this short video to understand what we are talking about.

THE STREETS – Art, talent, designs

This is one festival that is all out in the open. The PANDALS, the beautiful art installations that house the idols, lovingly created from locally available materials, displaying myriad forms of creativity & unprecedented craftsmanship, pop up every few meters on the streets of Calcutta. Seriously – every locality has at least a couple of these. And a pandal is not just a temporary housing – for these 10 days it’s the nerve center of each locality.  And some of these take years of planning and painstaking work to come to life.

The Deshapriya Park pandal in 2016. Source.
The Deshapriya Park pandal in 2016. Source.

THE CROWDS – We, the people

In 2016, one of the more famous pandals saw 40 lakh people arrive over 6 days.  4 MILLION people! IN JUST 6 DAYS! And that’s just one pandal. Conservative estimates peg the total number of pandals in Calcutta at a minimum of 2200. The metro saw 43 lakh travelers. And all this in a city that has a total population of 14 million! Now does the scale stagger you? No other street festival can claim such huge crowd surges for the stretch of almost a week. And this is a frenzied, chaotic, shouting, shoving, smiling, sweating mass of humanity that is vivacious and electric in its enthusiasm for this celebration of life! They will wait for hours pressed in a jostling crowd for a glimpse of the deity and to admire a pandals creativity.

A crowded Durga Puja pandal. Source
A crowded Durga Puja pandal. Source

THE CLOTHES, THE FOOD, THE ‘PREM’

Imagine this – your strict parents force you to buy new clothes (at least 5 sets for the 5 days!), then they don’t mind you eating out (and drinking slyly for the grown up kids) every day for 5 days and ignore your delinquent behavior of getting home almost at dawn! This is what happens every year for every Bengali! No boundaries, lax rules and overall happy vibes all around. And this is when many a romantic Bengali heart falls for the quick, shy glance of a pair of kohl lined eyes on Oshtomi or the rascally smile of a punjabi clad chokra on Nabomi. Love is not only in the air, but in the very veins of every young Bengali woman & man during the five days of Durga Puja.

Even Ayushmaan & Yami got in on the Puja Prem. Source.
Even Ayushmaan & Yami got in on the Puja Prem. Source.

SENSES – A treat for all 5

Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste. All of your senses will be taken for a whirlwind trip during the 5 days of the Durga Puja. The pandals & crowds take care of the sights. The sonorous DHAAK & Hemanta Mukhopadhyay “E akash shona shona…” takes care of the sound. The smell of DHUNO & that awesome autumn freshness will awaken you everyday. The touch of the crowd outside every pandal will remind you of being part of the people. And the taste of BHOG & all the other street side rolls, chowmeins & the buffet lunches will take care of your flaming Bengali palette. Thus a Bengali woman/man will have been sated over these 5 days!

Dhakis during DUrga Puja. Source.
Dhakis during Durga Puja. Source.

CULTURE – Literature, music and ADDA

Durga Puja is such a complete showcase of all things Bengali that we have a proper cultural schedule to go with it. There are special Durga Puja editions of every magazine & literary publication and most Bengalis get hooked to reading solely because we so excitedly looked forward to our Puja editions of Anandamela as kids. More Bengali music albums are released right before the Pujas than in the entire calendar year. And every locality has their own Bijoya sommiloni – a final hurrah with music, dance and whatnot on the last day of Puja. And along with all this, Durga Puja remains the best excuse for that one Bengali trait that is a necessity almost at par with breathing – A D D A. This is when old friends meet, this is when new friends are made, this is when your schedule is free for a heart-to-heart with all those you love and hold close. And if you know a Bengali just move close to them and whisper “MADDOX SQUARE JABI?” in there ears and see what happens!

Adda at Maddox Square. Source.
Adda at Maddox Square. Source.

And that, folks, is why Durga puja beats the world’s carnivals & festivals & fetes & celebrations and is the one true place to be in Autumn. Even if you are not a Bengali, being in Calcutta for one Durga Puja should be on your bucket list.

And if you are a Bengali, BOLO DUGGA MAI KI….

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Mahalaya is never complete without Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishashura-Mardini. Here are some insights into the history of the show & a link for you to listen to while waiting for the actual radio broadcast.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini
Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini

Mahalaya, signifies the end of Pitri Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha. This is the day that our beloved Durga begins her journey from Kailash to her paternal home for a brief sojourn.

Since 1931 (that’s almost a century!) Mahalaya for every Bengali has begun with the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The All India Radios MAHISASURAMARDINI has been our staple and our Durga Puja is incomplete without the 4 A.M. session of mellifluous CHANDIPATH & Pankaj Mullick’s unforgettable production. So here are a few of factoids about this iconic show & Birendra Krishna Bhadra himself that keeps us hooked after almost a century!

First production

MAHISASURAMARDINI was first produced in 1931 as a Live event but the current version is a recorded playback of the final 1966 version. Pankaj Kumar Mullick, one of the greatest music composers of the 20th century, was the producer & composer behind this epic show. Bani Kumar was the script writer & composer of the Sanskrit sloks & he was responsible for the singers’ Sanskrit diction.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini
Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini

Crew

It’s curious to note that the stars of the show – Pankaj Mullick, Bani Kumar & Birendra Krishna Bhadra were really young (BaNi Kumar was only 25 when we got on board) when they started the show. Here’s a full list of the giants behind this production –

Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Bani Kumar & Pankaj Mullick
Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Bani Kumar & Pankaj Mullick

Main Artists

Bani Kumar – Script Writing.
Pankaj Mullick – Music Composition.
Birendra Krishna Bhadra – Narration and Recitation of Scriptures.

Singers

Dwijen Mukhopadhyay (Jago Tumi Jago, Jago Durga, Jago Dashoprohoronadharini).
Pratima Bandopadhyay (Amala Kirane).
Shyamal Mitra (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Sandhya Mukhopadhyay (Bimane Bimane Aloker Gaane).
Manabendra Mukhopadhyay (Tabo Achintya).
Arati Mukhopadhyay (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Supriti Ghosh (Bajlo Tomar Alor Benu).
Pankaj Kumar Mullick (Jayanti Mangala Kali & Aham Rudrebhirvasubhischara).
Utpala Sen (Shanti Dile Bhori).
Tarun Bandopadhyay (Hey Chinmoyi).
Krishna Dasgupta (Akhilo Bimane Tabo Jayagaane).
Sumitra Sen (Mago Tabo Bine).
Ashima Bhattacharya (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Shipra Bose (Ogo amar agomoni).
Bimal Bhushan (Namo Chandi Namo Chandi).
Dhananjay Bhattacharya (Rupang Dehi, Jayang Dehi).
Choir group Satarupa- chorister-Minati Mukherjee.

Format & production

The 85 minute masterpiece is a tour de force of radio narration & presentation. It is essentially a perfect combination of narration & melodious songs which tell the story of invocation of Goddess Durga to save the heavens & other Gods from the evil Mahishasur. During the actual performance, the studio would be decorated with flowers & incense sticks to create a spiritual atmosphere befitting the occasion. Every artist was asked to arrive dressed in their finest traditional livery of LAAL-PAR saree & DHUTI-PUNJABI & many of them reminisced later about the absolute divinity of the experience. Three blows from a conch shell would signal the beginning of the event. Pankaj Mullick accorded such importance to this event that being the disciplinarian he was, he deliberately kept Hemanta Mukhopadhyay away from it since he couldn’t accommodate time for rehearsals. It’s a riveting performance of dedicated stalwarts – the music complements the core narrative & builds to the finale that is a brilliant declaration of the beginning of Debi Pokkho – Maa Durga has arrived!

Pankaj Mullick in one his rehearsals
Pankaj Mullick in one his rehearsals

Birendra Krishna Bhadra

Asshiner Sharodo Prate” – 3 words, just 3 words hit the very core of the audience & grips the airwaves with unmatched passion, pace, grace & depth. Birendra Krishna Bhadra, an exceptionally talented linguist (he knew 14 languages) gives a master class in enunciation & storytelling. The way his booming baritone crests & ebbs is a central support to the narrative based on Chandi Path & he takes us on an unforgettable journey. It’s hard to imagine that initially he had to face opposition from some quarters who found a non-Brahmin reciting the Chandi Path appalling.

oung Birendra Krishna Bhadra
Young Birendra Krishna Bhadra

The 1976 Uttam Kumar fiasco

This is an oft quoted incident where Uttam Kumar was roped in for the 1976 version by AIR as an experiment that was a massive failure. The audience reaction was so caustic & the demand for Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s return so loud that AIR had to revert to the original. The biopic “Mahalaya” is based on this incident.

Mahalya movie poster
Mahalya movie poster

We know a lot of Bengalis do not have access to the actual Live broadcast, so here’s a Soundcloud link – play it and feel the SHAROD spirit.

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BAJAR GOROM

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