Photographer’s Durga Puja festival in Kolkata, West Bengal, India


This is Kolkata. The capital of West Bengal, India. It is unbelievably overpopulated, it is hot, dirty, noisy but it is my most favourite city in India. I arrived to the district of Kumartuli Local sculptors create statues from clay and straw for Durga Puja festival. It is the biggest Bengali festival celebrating the Durga’s return to her natal home Bengalis believe, that Durga lives all year with her husband Shiva in his house on the sacred mountain Kailash in Tibet and she returns to her natal home only for a few days during the festival And I came to Kolkata to photograph it. I was a little bit affraid when I discovered the Kumartuli district in the Lonely Planet guide book as a tourist attraction. I know many places on this planet which were ruined when they wrote about them in the Lonely Planet. Fortunately, this is not the case. I wanted to shoot on ghats in the afternoon but it is the end of monsoon season and there was a heavy rain for three hours and streets are flooded quickly here and I will have a problem to find a restaurant which is open to eat something yummy This is my favourite restaurant “Arafat” in the Muslim district They cook really delicious classic Indian meals like dhal, sabji, kebab but they commit a small sin here. Many meals on their menu are cooked from beef although the majority of Indians believe a cow is a sacred animal. Today I was invited to celebrate the festival with one of the oldest aristocratic families in Kolkata. They became rich during the times of The East India Company. In their palace which is full of antiques they have a private temple and even their own priest who lives with them. Mahatma Gandhi used to come here to see the Durga Puja but the rituals are at least 170 years old. From a photographer’s point of view the most interesting ritual is Kumari Puja when they worship as a goodess a prepubescent girl dressed to beautiful clothes and jewelery The majority of backpackers stay in the area around Sudder Steet It made sense in the past. You could find here cheap hotels and everything you needed. Exchange offices, travel agents selling train, bus or flight tickets It looks like today there is not a reason to stay here as you can find everything on internet Accomodation easily on Booking.com, I have the “Cleartrip” app so I can buy train tickets online. It used to be a big problem in India and you must buy tickets well ahead I can buy also flight tickets in the app which are so cheap that there is no reason to use train for long distances Travelling is much easier now. But there is one reason to stay in Sudder Street area – there are many bars and shops with an alcohol here It is not usual in India and if you want to drink anything better than tea and sweet sodas you have to plan it wisely For decades I loved the beer garden in Fairlawn hotel in Kolkata It was one of my most favorite places in the universe Unfortunately the owner – almost 100 years old Armenian lady who drove a pink cadillac around Kolkata died and her descendants sold the hotel and it lost its atmosphere So I looked for a new place to drink beer after all day shooting My friends – local photographers introduced me the bar in Broadway hotel It has also a colonial atmosphere They have a draught beer But it is strange that locals order one liter pitcher and all table shares it So they are surprised where I have friends to share it when I order it alone and when I order second pitcher they do not understand totally Another place with an amazing colonial atmosphere is “Indian Coffee House”. My friend’s father who taught Bengali literature at nearby university comes her for 52 years. I tried a few meals there. One of the most popular is a Bengali fried fish The coat is much better if you compare it with Czech fried fish, they use amazing spices It is crispy, they add delicious sauces and vegetables. You will really enjoy it The favorite entertainment during the festival is so called “pandal hopping”. Pandals are temporary temples of Durga which were built only for the ten days of the festival The most expensive pandals can cost even two millions US dollars and they destroy them after the festival Districts and associations compete in a creativity and apart from traditional temples you can find temples representing universe, army or sci-fi Today is the main day of Durga Puja but so far it is not very good for photographs The guy behind me explains me everything, the rituals are very sacred and important for them but I do not have a really good photo today And as anywhere and anytime in India – there is a big jam and a noise here Today is the last day of the Durga Puja festival. All beautiful statues of Durga killing demon Mahisa will come here – on the banks of Ganges to immerse them to her sacred waters. There are at least 3000 big statues just in Kolkata which will be immersed during one day So it used to be a small enviromental catastrophy in the past but today municipality prepares heavy machinery and they drive everything to a dump immediately. One would almost cry when he sees how the beautiful statues end But it is not a reason to grieve . The goddess Durga will come back next year and her statutes will be even more spectacular and amazing!

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