In December 2021, Durga Puja in Kolkata got recognition in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is celebrated at the same time as Navratri in other parts of India. Kolkata’s rich culture, vibrant life, festive mood, all comes alive during the Durga Puja, which makes it one of biggest festival celebrations in India and around the world.
Durga Puja is not very old, despite its growing popularity. Except the Sovabazar Rajbari pujo and some bonedi bari pujo (festivals in rich houses), most other pujo started during the later half of the British rule or after Indian independence. Many of them also played a part in India’s freedom struggle in uniting people of all religions and cultures across India. Today, Durga Puja has evolved into more than just a puja. It controls a chunk of tourism, commerce, economy, and also upholds the rich culture existing in the region.
Durga Puja has its own charm in pandal hopping, its celebrations in localities, in uniting with members of the family living in distant lands. Durga Puja’s rituals, the message of victory of good over evil, women empowerment and women’s ability to manage multi-tasks at the same time, all these echo in the minds of Bengali people. The sound of dhak, the traditional instrument played in Bengal, the kash flower of autumn, the arrival of Maa Durga and departure through a procession, called bhasan, all form nostalgia for the Bengali people. Durga Puja is also the time every pandal competes with each other, bringing in new themes and decorations to attract more crowd, thus helping the art and craft culture of Bengal survive.
Historian Tapati Guha-Thakurta, in her book In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata (2015), traced the evolution of traditional pujo to its modern-day forms. Beyond religious aspects, she aimed to highlight the creative, cultural, and social economy that the grand festival generates. It was with this acknowledgement that UNESCO, in December 2021, included the Durga Puja in its Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Guha-Thakurta was the historian behind this coveted tag, chosen by the Ministry of Culture to bring to light that the 10-day festival is a multi-layered, dynamic, and an integral aspect of Kolkata’s socio-cultural and political landscape.
Written by – Himadri Paul