The festival is marked by gaiety and pomp at colossal puja pandals (marquees) where idols of Goddess Durga and her four children are being worshipped amid much community fanfare.
Maha Saptami (seventh day of the lunar calendar) began with bathing of a banana plant in ponds. Treated like a bride, the plant is wrapped in a new sari and placed next to Lord Ganesha's idol. Called 'Kalabou' (banana plant bride), it is considered Ganesha's wife.
The ritual is called 'Nabapatrika snan-o-sthapan' and many believe this practice is traced to the agrarian society of east India. The Nabapatrika (new leaves) consists of nine banana leaves.
After the ritual, special worship for Saptami started and fasting devotees thronged pandals to pray and offer 'pushpanjali' (floral offerings to the goddess).
With people relishing artistic decorations and idols, there were massive crowds on the streets. People engaged in spirited 'addas' (intellectual exchange) or small chat as Bengali music played in the background inside pandals.
State capital Kolkata - hosting people from India and abroad, who have come to soak in the cultural and religious gala - seemed virtually free of its trademark potholes and squalor. People danced, whistled, mingled with friends and family, in an infectious all-embracing spirit.
According to Hindu mythology, the festivities and prayers begin with the symbolic arrival of the goddess on earth on the sixth day of the first quarter of the moon and ends on Dashami or the 10th day, celebrated across the country as Dussehra.
Traditionally, every pandal has an idol of Goddess Durga depicting her as slaying demon Mahishasur. She is shown astride a lion and wielding an array of weapons in her 10 arms.
Tucked away in north Kolkata's Kashi Bose Lane, a puja pandal resembled an inverted flower surrounded by fields of "kaash" flowers that bloom during the festive season. The flowers are fabricated out of electrical sockets and reach up to one's waist.
Paying obeisance to nature, the sprawling marquee in satellite township Salt Lake's BH Block park puja brings out the Bon Bibi legend of Sunderbans (guardian of the forest) where the protector goddess Bon Bibi, worshipped by honey collectors and wood cutters, offers a safe passage into the dense mangroves from the Royal Bengal tigers.
Bordered by a panorama of wood cutters and honey collectors, a replica of the Bon Bibi shrine beneath a Banyan tree greets visitors.
In Prafulla Kanan (West), Kestopur in the northeast part of the city, an original half-constructed five-storey building has been converted into a pandal themed on "Shakti jodi mukti" (shakti is mukti) where a trishul (trident) is being worshipped as the goddess. The marquee is built from scrap materials.
Apart from community pujas, the goddess is worshipped by a large number of landlord families at their homes. Among them are the pujas at the houses of erstwhile zamindar families of Hatkhola Dutta Bari, Chatubabu Latubabu, Bhowanipore Mullick Bari and others. Traditional pujas usually have medium-sized idols within one frame (ek chala) and decorated with pith.
--IANS (Posted on 11-10-2013)