Arpita Chakrabarty explains the different ways Kali Puja is celebrated in Kolkata.
Come autumn every year – the sky becomes happier than the angry incessant drizzles of monsoon with floating ivory clouds and blue horizon; the milky white kash phool (kans grasses) blow candidly in the winds across the green fields; inch by inch the magnificent dreamy pandals are erected; and at last the candenced dhaks start beating to infuse the smell and aura into the festive season that starts with Durga Puja and end on an illuminated night of Diwali.
Kali Puja worshipped first in 18th century
A little over two weeks after Durga Puja, it’s time for Kali Puja, especially in Bengal, Odisha, Tripura and Assam. The legends say Kali Puja was first performed in Bengal by Raja Krishnachandra who was the king of Nabadwip in the 18th century. Nabadwip is a city located in the eastern part of West Bengal. Since then, the descendents of Krishnachandra and other zamindar and wealthy families of Bengal carried out the tradition of worshipping Kali at the midnight on new moon light to seek shelter from evils symbolised by darkness and find light, happiness and prosperity.
Kali Puja in Kolkata
For Kolkatans, Kali Puja is perhaps the second biggest socio-cultural festival that brings all families, friends and acquaintances together to worship Kali Puja at midnight, have a feast and burst firecrackers the next day with grandeur. Right after Vijayadashami, the artisans and labourers started creating, designing, decorating and lighting the superior pandals of Kali Puja. Within two weeks of time, the magnificent, almost unrealistic pandals are erected that invite lakhs of people who stand in long queues at night for hours just to have a look at these incredibly beautiful pandals and different avatars of Mother Kali goddess. For one who never visited Kolkata during Durga or Kali Puja, this certainly becomes beyond one’s belief and imagination.
Theme based pandals
The theme-based pandals hosting Chamunda Kali or even Rokto Chamunda (Blood Chamunda) Kali look like dark pitch-black places with skull and voices of ghosts playing inside the makeshift marquees. Chamunda and Rokto Chamunda are the Tantric goddess and earlier, legends say, wine and human sacrifices used to be offered to worship them. Much later, human sacrifices were replaced by animal sacrifices. The tradition is to offer red hibiscus flowers, animal blood, sweets, rice, fish and meat. After repeated appeals from PETA and other organisations, some neighbourhoods discontinued the ritual of animal sacrifices.
Shamshan Kali Puja takes place in all cremation grounds in Kolkata in a grand scale too. Unlike other times when people do not like to visit cremation grounds for obvious reasons, Shamshan Kali Puja witnesses people coming from far-off places. Similarly, Hazarhath Kali (Kali with thousand hands) is an extremely popular goddess in Kolkata and sees hordes of people trying to get a glimpse of this unique thousand-hands avatar of Kali.
Like Rokto Chamunda, Chhinamasta Kali is also one of the dreadest avatars of Kali who has beheaded herself in the bloodbath. Every year, during Kali Puja, Chetla, a southern part of the city invites lakhs of people from other districts too as it hosts all the avatars of Goddess Kali.
Kali gave her name to Kolkata
Apart from the major Kali Puja pandals that see crores of money put into these beautiful, artistic pandals and drawing sponsorships and media attention, almost every neighbourhood in Kolkata set up Kali Puja pandals to join in the festivities that included having a sumptuous lunch consisting of spicy mutton curry and rice followed by lighting diyas and bursting firecrackers in the evening.
In a city that gets its name from Kali, it is very easy to stumble upon upon a Kali temple after every few blocks. The Kalighat temple located in the southern part of Kolkata is cleansed and decked up with flowers and beautiful lighting, and is visited by more than a lakh devotees on this day to offer prayers on Kali Puja. At Belur Math and Dakshineswar Kali temples, devotees start thronging from early morning to avoid the huge crowd that increases as the day progresses.
Although Kali Puja celebration is not as much a big festival as Durga Puja, however, it certainly offers revellers another opportunity to be in similar merriment and fiesta that suddenly ends after Durga Puja.