Saptami , Ashtami , Navami , Dashami …this is what you are likely to hear most Bengalis talk about while they meticulously plan where to go, what to eat and what to wear as the 10-day Durga Puja festival approaches every year. Perhaps the most important event on a Bengali's calendar, it's also known as Sharadotsav and Durgotsav, and is as much about Goddess Durga and her family as it is about pushpanjali , new clothes (two per day no less),hours of adda and entertainment at the pandals and food. This is the time to be in the City of Joy, where grand pandals dot every nook and corner, loudspeakers play a mix of Rabindra Sangeet and Bollywood chartbusters, streets overflow with rejoicing people, and an array of delicacies tempts one and all. But for those far from the epicentre of the celebrations, there’s hope. The Bengali population settled outside Kolkata has made it a point to make the most of their pujo no matter where they are. This means you don’t have to miss out on the festivities and pandal -hopping, without which the pujo cannot be complete. The festival is a crowd-puller and the pandals are a great place to experience secular bonding. They are also places where you can catch up with latest fashion trends. "During the day, you get to see the best of traditional wear — right from Masaba Gupta to Satya Paul saris. In the evenings, many prefer to give traditional clothes a miss for chic cocktail wear," says Paroma Ray, who visits Chennai every year to celebrate the pujo with her family and friends. But no matter what's trending, the laal paar shada sari is always a constant favourite.
Here is our Durga Puja guide, starting today with Shoptomi.
Dakshini, Anna Nagar
Their Dhamaka night is quite a hit. It takes place on Nabami. “We start by 11.30 p.m. and the dancing goes on till 1.30.a.m. The DJ belts out high-voltage music. It’s open to members and their guests,” says Vikram Pal Chaudhuri, convener – PR Committee. The youngsters have a blast and the older members, if they still have the energy after three days of revelling, join in and shake a leg. Apparently, the best way to burn off all the misthi -induced calories that pile up through the pujo .
Partho Pratim Roy, treasurer of the club, says, “We have six food stalls serving rolls, chowmein, momos, kebabs, fries, cutlets, sandwich, maach bhaat , chicken and mutton curry and sweets. The phuchka stall, of course, is always one of the most popular attractions and everything gets sold out in no time.” The cooks, and even the spices, have been brought in from Kolkata to ensure authenticity of the food. “Our dhaakis and purohit come from there too,” he adds.
Over the years, they have learnt to manage the large crowds that come for the bhog on all the three days and, this time, they are expecting 500 people for bhog each day. “It’s khichdi with vegetables, fries, chutneys, papad and sweet today and on Nobomi. Tomorrow, the menu comprises radhaballavi, aloor dum, cholar daal and sweets. And on Dashami, there will be a proper Bengali lunch, comprising steamed rice, shukto, beulir daal, poshto , chutney and sweets.”
As for entertainment, they bank on their talented members to put up a show. “Our ladies wing, Moitree, will be a staging a programme tomorrow, and it will be the pick of the lot.”
South Madras Cultural Association
When mishti doi beckons, there’s not much you can do to hold back. Your resolve crumbles and you give in. The South Madras Cultural Association, Besant Nagar, has got renowned mishti doi -makers from Nabadwip, in West Bengal, to whip up their signature dish for us. In addition, the association has 15 food stalls serving street food like rolls, fish with rice and even Chinese and Thai cuisine. The stalls will be open from 9.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.
Into its 36 year, this association expects 2,000 people for the bhog on three days. “On the whole, we expect 80,000 to one lakh footfalls,” says Prodyut Bowmick, vice-president of the association. “It’s good to see so many people becoming part of it. Only 20 per cent of our visitors are Bengalis, the rest are non- Bengalis,” he adds.
Early morning pujas, pushpanjalis and evening entertainment programmes, keep the pandal visitors occupied. And then, there are the dhaakis who have come all the way from Bengal. Their beats can give even a DJ a run for his money.
Dakshin Chennai Pribashi Cultural Association, OMR
Feeling nostalgic? There are large pictures of the Howrah Bridge, yellow taxis, the Victoria Memorial, Vidyasagar Sethu, and Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen as well. The theme at Dakshin Chennai Pribashi Cultural Association is ‘Looking Back in Time’. The newest association to enter the scene this year, DCPCA organises its events at Gems Inn Resort, Navallur. The distance maybe a deterrent, but the food stalls and entertainment lined up seem promising. There are the usual bong favourites — phuchka and roshogolla. Besides, there's an evening of music dedicated to Tagore tomorrow. "Tonight, Hindi rock band Gwbwration Gap will perform, followed by a play. On Friday, we have organised dandiya and retro Bollywood music by Jaya Rajagopal, says Lily Sengupta, coordinator.
The Bengal Association, T. Nagar
Oldest of the Bengali associations, it was formed in 1929. The premises look forlorn for most part of the year. But as the festival nears, committee members trickle in and out to plan the festivities, members rehearse for the functions and, on the days of the pujo , the place is bedecked and shining like a bride in all her grandeur. The idols are brought in and unveiled at a ceremony that’s called Bodhon (invocation), after which Godess Durga is believed to have come to life.
Subhashish Ghosh, secretary, says, “This year, we expect 20,000 footfalls.” The pushpanjali and bhog during the day draw a large gathering. The food stalls are a favourite during the evenings. This time, the stalls will be selling luchi , sweets, puffs, cutlets, rolls and mishti doi . “Cooks have been brought from Kolkata to cook the khichidi bhog that will be served tomorrow afternoon. Today, it’s steamed rice with traditional favourites such as poshto and on Ashtami it will comprise pulao ,” he says.
Singer Olivia Chakraborty and her group perform this evening, followed by members putting up a musical show tomorrow and a dance performance by a group from Kolkata. This year, Ashtami and Navami fall on the same day. Which means pujo will be over a day earlier. But all the associations are celebrating an extra day anyway.
As Subhashish Ghosh rightly puts it, “ Bangali toh, ekta din o miss kora jaabe na .” (We are Bengalis. We won’t miss out even on a single day.)
To satiate the palates of Bong food enthusiasts, hotels and restaurants in the city are organising food festivals. The Bayleaf has a host of exciting dishes such as mochar chop, aloo chop, dhokar dalna, kasundi paturi, ilish maach, kacha lonka murgi...
For the vegetarians, Kolkata Q's vegetarian trolley offers rice and the usual suspects — shukto, mugger daal, poshto, aloo bhaja, doi potol, misthi.
Chef Rajesh, area director, food production, The Park says, “We get a lot of requests from our guests, asking for Bengali cuisine. That prompted us to host this three day food festival that starts today.” Ghee bhaat, chanar daal, pabda maacher jhol, chingri maacher malai curry, jhur jhure allo bhaaja…
For beguni (batter-fried brinjals), jhaal muri , and aloo potol, Paprika at The Courtyard by Marriott is a good option. And while you tuck into that malpua, you have Charulatha playing on the giant screen, along with Bangla gaan for company. Now, isn’t that a good way to eat your way through the festivities?
(The dates of the food festivals vary.)