In Kumartuli (the potter colony in Northern Calcutta) potters are frantically giving the right profile to the clay in their hands. Procured from the banks of the River Hooghly, the clay needs to be shaped into perfection.
Timing is the key. After all, the most important festival of the year is around the corner- Durga Pooja; (also known as Durgostav or Pujo in Bengal). It is the time when the country gears up for the descent of the supreme Mother, the embodiment of power, purity and magnificence- Goddess Durga. Each state has its customs and traditions around it but in Bengal the Pujo time is extremely special.
Across Bengal there is a frenzy around Pujo. Preparations go ten folds in terms of splendor, exuberance, and experience and commence a month before. Pandals based on various themes and ideas show off stunning creativity, exclusivity, and league coe up across Kolkata and the entire state. A larger-than-life idol of Maa Durga, standing tall right in the middle of the stage with her mighty presence along with a lion; slaying Mahishasura- the epitome of darkness and ignorance- establishing the victory of the good over evil is a sight to behold in every pandal.
If one keenly observes the idol of the divine feminine, he will notice that Maa Durga is always shown holding a unique weapon in her 10 arms. As per Hindu beliefs her arms represent 10 directions. It is said that she protects her devotees from all directions.
One of the most crucial step in the making of the idol, is to paint the eyes of the Maa Durga (Chokku Daan), which is done on Mahalaya (the first day of the puja). The marvel of the technique is such that from wherever you view the idol of Maa Durga in the pandal, it seems like that Maa is looking at you.
The festivities essentially start on Shasthi and continue till Vijaya Dashmi (the tenth day of victory). Many people keep a day-long fast and break it only after offering Pushpanjali to Maa Durga in the evening. Another major event is Kumari Puja. This takes place on Ashtami. A young girl is selected to be the live incarnation of Maa Durga and worshipped symbolically. Next is the Dhanuchi Naach - it’s a devotional dance performed to thank the Goddess.
Men and women dance on the beats of dhaak while keeping the dhanuchis (Clay pots filled with burning coconut husk with dhuno sprinkled on them) in their hands. In the end, there comes Sindoor Khela, where married women smear sindoor on each other faces and distribute sweets. Finally, the Bisarjan, when Maa Durga returns to her heavenly abode through the immersion ceremony.