Festival of social bonding begins with Mahashasti

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Kolkata, Oct 17 (UNI) What began as a worship of Goddess Durga in the temples, is now spread across the autumnal sky like freckles of white clouds as Kolkata woke up to Mahasasthi today amid fun, frolic and piety.

Durga Puja was earlier confined to the temples dedicated to the goddess. It was around the 1720s that Raja Krishna Chandra Roy of Nadia made it popular. It was his opulent style of celebration of the festival that caught the imagination of the Bengalis.

Today Durga Puja is less spiritual and more socially extravagant, cutting across religions, class and caste as people mingle in the milieu of delight.

Kolkata, which boasts of around 400 pujas this year, has a heady mix of traditional and modern.

While people have started pandal hopping wearing their finery right from the morning, the crowd is expected to swell in the evenings on all the five days taking it to around lakhs to each of the famous pandals.

Traditional pandals like the Baghbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsav and the Ballygunge cultural Association Pujas still hold the magic of 'parar pujo' (pujo of the locality) alongside the modern 'theme pujas' like the Lake Town Tarun Sangha that boast of carrying forward the traditional art forms from across the country through the idiom of the Goddess herself.

''The Ballygunge Cultural Puja started in 1951 as a platform of Bangali bhadraloks who came as new residents to the area in the post-war era. Even with a change in the locations a few times, we have not given up on the traditional part,'' said an old timer of the organising committee.

In contrast the puja organisers of New Alipore Suruchi Sangha have put together the trdaitional Gurjar art form from Gujarat in their pandals. Another puja in Khidderpore has brought to the fore the brass-dokra style in clay and yet another has depicted the myth of 'Pechar Panchali' (The lore of the Owl) through their depiction.

While the first proper 'Barwari Puja' was organised in 1761 in Guptipara in Hoogly district, Shimla Bayam Samiti in north Kolkata became the first to bring a celeb in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to inaugurate the puja in 1939.

The colour of the puja is also spread across several royal and zamindar families who have been holding pujas. While the oldest were the Raja Naba Krishno Deb of the famed Sovabazar Rajbati in north Kolkata and Sabarna Choudhury of Behala, the Mallicks, Pandeys, Daws and Lahas have also been holding their own for around a century.

The Met office has made a prediction of a few sharp showers, but that has failed to cast a dampner on the puja spirit. People have decided to take on the rains and make the most while the sun is out.

No matter whether the Devi is arriving in a 'Dola' (boat) that signifies rains, the revellers seemed to be enchanted by the call of the 'Dhakis' (drummers), the swaying 'Kash phul'(kash flower) and the sweet smell of jasmine that blooms at this time of the year.

UNI

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