I can’t believe I almost missed Durga PujaThis is the very last day of the 10-day festival, also celebrated as Navaratri or Vijayadashami, also known as Dasara. Confused, yet? Never mind. The bottom line is that good has triumphed over evil, and it’s time to celebrateHappy Durga Puja!

Wishing everyone a happy Durga Puja!

What is this festival?

It’s a major holiday celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and SikhsTraditions vary by region, including whether the deity celebrated is the Goddess Durga, or the God Rama.

Since I’ve been studying north-Indian roots for some of my Rana Stationers, I’m slightly more familiar with the kind of Durga Puja celebrations one finds in Kolkata. For that reason, it’s where I’ll focus most of this post.

But the underlying reasons for the season remain the same. Success after an epic battle, a cosmic triumph of good over evil. It’s the end of the monsoon season, and has its origin in ancient harvest festivals. Reasons aplenty to celebrate! Happy Durga Puja!

Ornate and beautiful idols require weeks of work before the festival. They help make it a happy Durga Puja.
The beautifully-created statues in the pandals set up to celebrate Durga Puja glorify the strong and triumphant Mother Durga. (photo by Baishampayan Ghose/Flickr)

Who is Durga?

The best part for me is that Durga Puja celebrates a strong, triumphant goddessDurga. This woman is so awesome she rides a lion or a tiger! Possibly in part because she’s also the mother of the universe, she has lots of arms (anywhere from 8 to 18). Sometimes moms need that many! Mother Durga also wields ten different symbolic weapons in her ongoing efforts to protect the world.

The moment of glory celebrated in the Durga Puja festival is a long, hard-fought battle. She defeated a shape-shifting water-buffalo demon named Mahishashura. The festival lasts ten days (or seven, or nine, or fifteen, depending on where you celebrate) to commemorate how long and hard the battle was.

The ritual dance called dhunuchi is performed in the evening by women in white sarees with red borders. They spread an incense made of coconut husk and camphor, burned in earthen bowls. Happy Durga Puja!
The dhunuchi dance is performed with an earthen bowl containing smoldering coconut husk mixed with camphor. These women also are wearing traditional white sarees with red and embroidered borders. Note this photo comes from Bangalore, not Kolkata. (photo by Amarnath via Flickr)

How is Durga Puja celebrated?

There are lots of Durga Puja celebration traditions in Kolkata (which, as I said, has so far been my primary focus). Several websites offer suggestions for touristsalthough it’s highly likely that local people observe the festival privately in other ways. But here are some of the things always mentioned in the online sources I can access. Three “Happy Durga Puja” approaches are via food, pandals, and rituals.


Although some traditions observe fasts, the rule in Kolkata seems to be feastsBhog is the food most closely associated with the festival, since it is served free at every pandal during Durga Puja. Appropriately for the climactic finish of the festival, the word bhog means “pleasure” or “delight,” but also “to end or conclude.”

You can't have a happy Durga Puja without lots of delicious food. This photo shows free food offered to visitors who come to a pandal.
Bhog is delicious festival food handed out for free to the visitors who come to a pandal. (photo via Holidify)


These are structures–some temporary, some more permanent–in and around which the festival is celebrated. They usually seem to be built by families or groups, who decorate them with stages (the site of amateur theatrical presentations) and the iconic idols, which are sculpted and sumptuously decorated.

This video from the Hindustan Times offers a glimpse of the development of sculptures and the variety of displays in Kolkata during Durga Puja. You also can hear a sample of traditional holiday drumming on dhaaks.


Many aspects of the festival are performed as rituals. There is a particular day (Mahalaya; this year it was Sept. 28) when the eyes may be painted on the idols. There are different offerings at different times of the day. Apparel (such as the white saree with red borders), particular dances, music, and more. All are done in particular ways on particular days.

Elements of a happy Durga Puja: the Kala-bou, or "banana bride" ritual, and the liberal use of the red pigment sindoor on people's faces.
Kala-bou and sindoor! (see below for more details on what those are). Happy Durga Puja! (Photos from “This is Utkarsh Speaking” and Biswarup Ganguly).

An example is the bathing of the Kala-bou or “banana bride” on Mahasaptami, the seventh day of the festivalRead more details here. Another is the use of sindoor (red pigment) on people’s faces during Durga Puja. Traditionally, only married women apply sindoor, but recently the custom has grown to be more inclusive in some places and among some groups, possibly spurred by tourist exuberance.

However you celebrate it, I wish you a very happy Durga Puja!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Snapgalleria via 123RF, for the “Subho Bijoya” greetings for Durga Puja. I also want to thank Baishampayan Ghose, Flickr, and Lonely Planet for the delightful photo of the Durga Puja statues, and Amarnath, also via Flickr and Lonely Planet, for the dhunuchi dance photo. 

The photo of many trays of bhog is from Holidify (however, their source link to the photographer’s credits ends in a 404 error). Many thanks to the Hindustan Times for the YouTube video of pandals in Kolkata. 

The “Rituals” montage consists of photos from two different sources. The photo of the kala-bou (banana bride) is from the “This is Utkarsh Speaking” blog, possibly taken by the author?The photo of the women applying sindoor (red pigment) to each other’s faces is by Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0., via Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons