The City of Joy spoils you for choice when it comes to pandal hopping. Choose ancestral homes, age-old idols and traditions or go for contemporary, experimental pujas in the city. Here’s your guide to the best pandals to visit.
Jodhpur Park: One of the most popular South Kolkata pujas, the pandal has installed a 3D idol this year.
Kumartuli Park: Started in the ‘90s, this is particularly special because it takes place in the centuries old potters’ area where Durga idols are handcrafted.
Bagbazaar: This puja pandal has been around for about 100 years now. It’s a relatively simple one and is known for the strikingly beautiful idol of Durga.
College Square: Established in 1940s, the College Square puja has a picturesque setting beside a lake and is known for its lights installations and their reflection on the water.
Maddox Square: It is famous for its youthful, carnival-like atmosphere. It is favoured by the young.
Ekdalia Evergreen: This one’s known for replicas of temples from all over India.
Other notewrothy pujas: Singhi Park, Mudiali, Suruchi Sangha and Selimpur.
Bonedi bari pujas: Visit the bonedi (aristocratic) baari family pujas held in the mansions of yesteryear zamindars (landowners) of Kolkata. Tourists are allowed to take part in the festivities. The ceremonies are held in Thakurdalaans – colonnaded grand courtyards. You can also savour forgotten bonedi culinary delights like maharani dal which used to be popular with those working with East India Company.
Some Bonedi bari pujas to visit are:
Sovabazaar’s Raj Bari
33R, Raja Nabakrishna Street, Near Sovabazaar Metro and Lal Mondir
Jorasanko’s Narasingha Daw Bari
12A, Shib Krishna Daw Lane, Vivekananda Road
Hatkhola Dutta Bari
78, Neemtala Ghat Street
Chhatu Babu Latu Babu Bari
Ramdulal Nibas (Thakurbati), 67E, Beadon Road
2A, Bidhan Sarani, Sovabazar, Bidhan Sarani
Das Bari: Situated at Kapalitola, off Central Avenue, this puja is celebrating its bicentenary this year. At this puja, Durga is worshipped according to Vaishnav traditions.
West Bengal’s Tourism Department tours: You can also enjoy the pujas with a boat ride on the Hooghly. West Bengal’s Tourism Department (WBTDC) organises river cruises both in the morning and in the afternoon. You can even watch the dashami idol immersion on a river cruise.
WBTDC’s puja parikrama tours are quite good, and have become popular with locals as well as foreign tourists. You can choose from several packages – the Sanatani tour, takes tourists to traditional pujas, Uttara tour that all the well-known pujas of north Kolkata (the older part of the city). The Dakshini package visits South Kolkata pujas. Another package includes visit to pujas outside Kolkata and covers travels to Hooghly, Bardhaman and Murshidabad districts. The Bijoya package is a two days and three nights tour to Bishnupur.
Walking tour: The easiest way to experience the pandals is to take a puja tour, such as the ones organised by the WBTDC. However, there are a handful of promising private walking tours run by well-informed locals which can be even better. Like Calcutta Walks and Let’s Meet Up Tours. This time a city cycling club will be doing a bicycle tour of the pujas. Tours and walks cost between Rs. 899 to 2000.
Tours to pujas outside the city are gaining popularity with people who want to avoid the crowds, frenzy and commercialisation of Kolkata’s pujas. Rituals and idols in these pujas have held on to traditions. A bonus can be the bhog fare which can be radically different from Kolkata pujas – from goat curry to hilsa with parathas and fish cooked with radishes. And sometimes, it’s on the house.
Belur Math: It is known for its Kumari puja – performed on ashtami – where girls are worshipped as personifications of the goddess. It is believed that the girl worshipped symbolises the power that regulates creation, stability and destruction on earth. This tradition follows the ideals of 19th century saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa who said that the Divine Mother manifests herself more in a pure-hearted girl.
Sheoraphuli’s royal family puja: A 281 year old puja, the idol has been with the family for years and is worshipped throughout the year. It is created with eight precious metals and Durga is shown minus her children.
Cooch Behar: Situated at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, Cooch Behar was declared a heritage city for its many old monuments. Like the Bara Debi Bari which hosts a huge fair during the time of Durga Puja.
Dey family, Borshul, Burdwan: The idol is made of clay with Durga and her family seated on a single hemispheric structure called ekchaala. She is in a peaceful avatar minus weapons and lion.
Chongdars at Gushkara, Bolpur: They follow tantric traditions and rituals in their 500 year old puja. This too is famous for its ekchaala protima. Debenranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore were regular visitors here.
Dashghara Biswas Bari: The puja is celebrating its 300th year here. The traditional zamindar home is 500 years old and has a huge pond called Goopisagar.
Lataguri and Jalpaiguri, Dooars: The former is a picturesque little village which celebrates Durga Puja with fervour. The Pal Chowdhury Bari and Prantik Sangha pujas are popular. The latter is one of the oldest cities of colonial Bengal, the oldest puja of the town is Baikunthapur Rajbari’s which started in the 16th century.