Bengal all set for Durga Puja

Kolkata, Oct 9 : It is Bengal's biggest festival, when the state plunges into festivities, merriment and religiosity, when even newspapers shut down and roads are choked with human traffic throughout the day - and night.

With marquees springing up in alleys and arterial roads and the city as well as its residents all decked up to savour the food, fashion and festivity, it is time for the biggest five-day socio-cultural carnival of Bengalis that comes with the annual religious observance the Durga Puja that begins Thursday.

Festooned with lights, giant cardboard cutouts and clay figures adorning entrances to lanes, the city is dressed like a bride to welcome its patron goddess. Special platters of Bengali dishes have been on offer at city restaurants to tickle the devotees' taste buds.

The five-day festival translates into frenzied pandal-hopping in new clothes, meeting friends and family and stuffing oneself silly. The community pujas in the city number around 2,700 this year, while thousands more are observed in the towns and villages across West Bengal.

According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children - Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati - descends on earth every year to visit her parents to fight evil. This is the occasion that the Puja celebrates.

Durga, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur, comes sitting astride her lion mount and wields an array of weapons in her 10 hands in symbolic representation of Shakti, or woman power.

The rituals that start off on Shashthi - the sixth day of the lunar calendar - come to an end on Dashami, when the idols of the goddess and her children are immersed by teary-eyed devotees in ponds, lakes and rivers across the state, severely adding to the pollution of the water bodies and waterways.

Police has installed over 700 CCTV cameras, eight mobile assistance squads and sufficient women officers and plain-clothed men keeping a round-the-clock vigil as foreigners and domestic tourists throng city to experience the carnival.

For the first time, aerial surveillance devices will be deployed across the metropolis of during the five days to monitor traffic and aid in crowd control.

In Kolkata, several puja pandals have mounted solar panels to celebrate the occasion in an eco-friendly way.

Prior to Sashti, the beautiful sculpted traditional clay idols crafted by the potters of Kumartuli were shuttled to the marquees based on a variety of themes like '100 years of Indian Cinema', 'Uttarakhand Disaster' and the end of the telegram. Some marquees prominently featured women's empowerment and the rising incidents of crimes against women.

Increasing in numbers each year, the individual pujas in various apartments and building blocks across Kolkata are all set with their own set of cultural functions and contests for the residents.

This year the focus has also been on the opening event with a group of widows from Vrindavan inaugurating around three pandals whereas West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee beat top dignitaries, including Governor M.K. Narayanan, in cutting ribbons.

With industry body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) predicting the Durga puja business to touch Rs.40,000 crore (USD 6.5 billion) by 2015, the celebrations are a testimony to the people's enthusiasm (pujor hullor in Bengali) that draws them out to pandal-hop despite the met office predicting a rainy puja.

--IANS (Posted on 09-10-2013)

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