To enjoy the Dussehra festivities to the utmost, one must travel to Kolkata in Paschim Bangla during Durga Pooja. The first recorded Durga Pooja took place in Nadia district in or around 1606. It is believed that this pooja was conducted by the family of Sabarna Chaudhury of Barisha. In those days, Durga Pooja was more of a family festival.
The first publicly organised pooja was held in Guptipara of Hoogli district when 12 men were stopped from taking part in a household pooja. They formed a 12-man committee and held a pooja. Since then, this kind of pooja arrangement is known as barowari, derived from 'baro' meaning 'twelve' and 'yar' meaning 'friend'. Later, the term barowari was replaced by sarbojonin, meaning for all men and women. The first community pooja in Kolkata was held at Balaram Bose Ghat Road in 1910.
The process of creating the idol for Durga Pooja starts two to three months before the actual festivities begin. The artisans start the clay modelling process to build the images of Durga, Mahisasur, Kartik, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi at Kumartuli in north Kolkata. Another group of people start building a pandal with paper, wood, bamboo, cloth and other materials.
The festival starts with Mahalaya, the first phase of the waxing moon in the Hindu month of Aswin. On this day, thousands of people offer prayers to their ancestors at the city's river banks in a ritual called Tarpan. The festive mood then builds up as Dhakis or drummers gather near the city. They beat feathered drums to attract attention to local pooja spaces.
The main pooja starts from Shashthi, which is the sixth day after the new moon. The idol of the goddess is now placed on a raised platform. The priest ceremonially establishes life in the clay image and from then till the 10th day, the image is treated as the Goddess herself. Just like during Diwali, worshippers are supposed to clean their houses, take a purifying bath and offer prayers to the Goddess in new clothes. Many devotees also observe a fast on this day and break the fast after the evening aarti.
The next day, or the Saptami, is the first day of Durga Pooja. Kola Bow or Nabapatrika is given a pre-dawn bath. Nabapatrika or Navpatrika are the leaves of nine plants used during Durga Pooja rituals. The nine plants are wrapped in a white and red sari and symbolically represent Durga. The nine plants used include plantain or banana, kachvi or kacci or kachu, turmeric, barley, wood apple or bilva, pomegranate, asoka, manaka or mana and rice paddy or dhanya. The main Saptami Pooja then follows.
The Ashtami day is the day when the four-day celebrations culminate. It was on this day that Durga killed Mahishasura, the rakshasa. Devotees recite mantras and offer flowers to Devi Durga. This ceremony is called Pushpanjali. Rituals of sacrifice are carried out by offering the Goddess chalkumro, a type of pumpkin, cucumber and banana. 108 deeps or oil-lit lamps are lit during the pooja, called Sandhipuja.
The ninth day is considered auspicious and on this day, Nabami Bhog, or food for the Goddess, is offered to the Goddess. This is later distributed among the devotees.
The 10th day is called Vijayadashmi. On this day, the Goddess is immersed into the river and the 10-day festivities come to an end.