Today is Mahashtmi, the eighth & most important day of Durga Pujo, the biggest festival for Bengalis. Durga Puja is to Calcutta what Diwali is to Bombay & Delhi, except this city believes in coming out on the streets in full force to celebrate!
It's not even funny how crazy the streets are the four days of Pujo. I, for one, can't fathom where all these people live! The roads become one way, even for walking. You can't walk down the street without sweaty arms brushing past yours, sweating buckets yourself, people pushing & shoving you and stepping on your shoes from behind (if you're wearing slip-on shoes).
No one cares for the crowds or the humidity, so strong is the love of Bengalis for their beloved Goddess. There are hordes of people out on the streets till 3-4am, pandal-hopping (phrase used by Bongs for visiting various pandals) and eating at the numerous food stalls set up near the pandals. Jaundice, typhoid, swine-flu...Are those street food? :)
By this time, the shopping is over - 'notun jama' (new clothes) for each day of the pujo, gifts for family & friends have been purchased. Some kids even manage to get their parents to buy 2-3 sets of clothes for each day!! The Bong's love for Durga Pujo is unbridled. Sample this, we have five days off work (Thursday-Monday) for Pujo, and no work happened for the one week leading upto the Pujo holidays as people were out shopping for gifts for their friends & family and clothes for themselves.
I'm not a religious person at all. I don't visit temples, don't believe in deities or idol-worship. But Durga Puja is one festival which pulls me in (I love Diwali & Christmas too, but they aren't focused so much on a deity as Durga Puja is). Maybe it's the festivities....lights, decked up streets, the euphoria, happy people all around, celebrating with food & fun without a care in the world....or maybe it's the idol of Durga which, trust me, can bring tears to your eyes. The sheer power - or 'shakti' - emanating from the idols (mindblowingly talented artisans, I tell you, I wish they got their due) is something you have to experience in Calcutta. The realization that the world always thinks of females as the weaker sex, yet they are worshipping a female God for her 'shakti' WILL bring tears to your eyes.
And oh yeah, the sound of the 'dhak' - the most beautiful "religious" sound in the world. Right up there with the Nasik dhol.
Happy Pujo everyone, especially the Bengalis - resident and probashi - reading this.