”My earliest memory of Pujo is listening to Mahishasuramardini on the radio. On Mahalaya (New Moon day), we would wake up at 4 in the morning to listen to the holy verses. That’s just the beginning of Pujo. We don’t celebrate Navratri, all the nine days. Our festivities begin from the sixth day where we worship Maa Durga. We set up grand Pandals and have elaborate rituals and cultural programs twice a day. Although I’m not from Kolkata, we celebrate the festival just as authentically in Hyderabad. Our pandals are beautifully lit-up and have uncountable stalls for lots of food and shopping. It starts with the Ghat Sthapna (establishing the urn) and preparation of the Bhog (Food offerings), made of interesting vegetables like the peel of potatoes! We have an Aarti every morning and evening, followed by cultural programs and the Dhunuchi Naach, a ritual that involves dancing with one or two pot-like incense burners, often found to be the most eye-catching custom. A drummer, or a Dhaaki, also comes from Kolkata every year to play the traditional Dhaak at the Pandal, the sounds of which are mesmerising and enchanting.
On the eighth day of Navratri, we offer 108 lotus flowers to the Goddess, one for each of her names and every married woman lights a lamp for her children, called Sandhi Puja.
On the last day, we have a grand wedding of Lord Ganesha with a banana leaf, which is celebrated by everyone like a family affair! Then, married women smear vermillion (Sindoor) on each other, in a tradition called Sindoor Khela, as they congratulate Durga Thakur (Maa Durga), seek her blessings and bid her farewell.
With changing times, as I grew up, Pujo only got closer and closer to my heart. As I began to understand the rituals better, the love for the festival only multiplied exponentially! It’s overwhelming to see people come in such huge numbers to visit pandals every year and motivates us to make better arrangements. The planning and preparation for this festival begins way back in May, right after the Bengali New year and Rabindra Jayanti. These festivities, meeting family and friends and celebrations go on all year, so the spirit of true Bengali culture never dies”!
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