There is a wonderful cosmos in Kolkata made up of faith infused with fun, straw mixed with clay, bamboo covered in cloth and paint artfully applied to plaster. Gods and animals, demons and fairies, fruits and flowers, lights, incense and offerings tumble across and over each other on towering bamboo arches that bestride the streets of the city like kaleidoscopic Colossi.
One of the first things we noticed in Kolkata was a stupendous but bare bamboo arch being built across the road just around the corner from us. These arches are developed into magnificent affairs, with domes and towers, flagpoles, platforms and stages. Once completed they are painted, draped with colourful materials, lit with fluorescent lights and covered in beautiful clay, straw and plaster statues of the whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. Kolkata is peppered with these structures as the Bengalis prepare for one of their favourite celebrations, Durga Puja.
The Durga Puja festival in November marks the battle of goddess Durga with the shape-shifting, deceptive and powerful buffalo demon Mahishasura – with Durga emerging victorious. Your classic good vanquishing evil.
It’s also a harvest festival since Durga represents Mother Earth – powerful creator of all life.
The primary goddess revered during Durga Puja is Durga, but her stage and celebrations are jam packed with other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and music), Ganesha (god of good beginnings) and Kartikeya (god of war).
During the festival the Kolkatans all give each other splendid new clothes in which they promenade up and down, while drums beat, bells ring and jangle and conch shells are blown incessantly. The festival ends on the tenth day when with music and chants, the community walks in procession carrying the colorful clay statues to the river where they immerse them.
The artists responsible for these magnificent statues are the idol makers of the Durga Puja, in Kumartuli Lane. Months are spent preparing the statues and displays, many of which are sent to the Hindu diaspora communities across the globe.
You can visit this lane, as we did, and watch the artists slapping mud and straw together, shaping and moulding the torsos, heads and limbs before artfully plastering and finishing their superb creations.