Festivals and Fairs of West Bengal
Bengali people by nature are fun loving. Festival and festivity means to eat sweets, wear new clothes, arrange cultural evenings and generally make merry. The whole of West Bengal is celebrating one or the other festival every month. As they say it in Bengali, Baro mashe tero parbon means 13 festivals in 12 months. Actually the enthusiastic Bengalis celebrate many more than 13! Earlier the province of Bengal had equal number of Muslims and Hindus. The British came and Christianity reigned in. All these have made today's West Bengal a melting pot with its own unique Bengali flavour that has managed to stay alive. Like all over the country, the national festivals like the Independence Day, the Republic day and the Gandhi Jayanti are celebrated with much fervour and Vigour in West Bengal.
The New Year: As many Christians and Anglo Indians live in Kolkata even today the English New Year has its own charm here. The shops and the shops, the malls and the streets are decorated to welcome the New Year. People are seen visiting places, buying or eating and making merry. New Year in West Bengal and especially Kolkata is a unique experience.
The Calcutta Festival: In January itself a huge Calcutta festival is organized in the capital city of Kolkata. Ethnic foods stalls display and sell authentic Bengali cuisine. Cultural events are held which makes this festival a huge success every year.
The Republic day: The Republic day falling on the 26th of January, is celebrated by hoisting flags and observing a holiday to mark the day when India turned a republic country. It is the time of the year when the patriotism is smelt in the air. Flags are hoisted all around and patriotic songs can be heard throughout the day. Around the same time falls the Chinese New Year. Kolkata having a massive population of the Chinese people, with its own China Town, this festival is celebrated with much fervour in Kolkata and in typical Chinese style. Dragons are cut out of papers and hung out side the Chinese houses and shops. Small paper lanterns keep burning for the period and children gear up for a spectacular display of fire works.
The Makar Sankranti: The Makar Sankranti festival which falls in mid-January and marks the winter solstice is better known as the Ganga Sagar Mela in West Bengal. It is the Sagar Dweep Island around 150 km south of Kolkata, where the River Ganga meets the ocean separating itself in thousand streams. This place is considered to be very holy place and a dip in the water on the Makar Sankranti day is considered very auspicious. During this three-day Ganga Sagar Mela pilgrims come from far and wide and thus the auspicious place turns into a fair to entertain the masses. The day this fair ends, it's the beginning of the Baul Mela. Bauls are singers belonging to the Hindu Vaishnab and Sufi Muslim from all over Bengal as well as from Bangladesh come to perform at Bolpur which is 150 kilometers west of Kolkata and sing enchanting devotional tunes for three nights.
Holi or Dol: With the onset of spring, Holi is celebrated all throughout India. At Santiniketan in the district of Birbhum, it is Vasanta Utsav (March). Students of the Visva Bharati University welcome the season of colours through songs and dances, throwing abir and spraying liquid dyes at each other. The ceremonial welcome to spring when people, colourfully attired, especially in bright shades of yellow, dance, sing and make merry. In West Bengal, Saraswati, the goddess of learning is worshipped. The festival is celebrated with great fervour.
The Nabo Borsho: Similar to the whole of India, Bengal also celebrates its new year after the spring and when the crops are cut and stored. It is known as the Nabo Borsho, meaning the New Year and more colloquially known as Poila Boishakh; the first day of the first month in the Hindu Bengali Calendar. Falling in Mid April, the festival also alerts the advent of summer. Bengalis wear new clothes, make payosh and distribute sweets and good wishes among the near and dear ones.
Robindronath Joyonti: A unique festival celebrated by the Bengalis is the birthday of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore. His birthday is celebrated by performing his plays and singing the songs he wrote and rendered music to. A unique way to pay homage to the great poet on his birthday on 9th of May, every year, who put Bengal on the world map.
Jomai Shashthi: This is the festival that is completely dedicated to the sons in law. On this particular day, falling in June or July every year, the sons in law of the family are pampered to the hilt. The mothers in law tie a sacred thread to their wrists an offers fruits, sweets, new clothes along with many other gifts. As August or the month of Shravan approaches, various festivals like the Naga Panchami or the Manasha Puja and the Raksha Bandhan festivals are celebrated along with the national festival of the Independence Day.
Durga Puja: Come autumn, the air is rent with the sound of drums, the season of festivals. The most awaited festival of all the Bengalis …. Durga Pujo is the first to be celebrated on the onset of winter. This festival celebrated before the Dushera during the last five days of the Navaratri falls in October. When the whole of India is celebrating the Navaratris the Bengalis get ready for the most elaborate festival of Bengal, the Durga Pooja. Dedicated to Goddess Durga, another form of Parvati, who killed the demon Mahishasura during these four days. It is the triumph over the evil, which is celebrated in most exotic manner all over West Bengal. Huge pandals are erected and decorated and Goddess Durga is installed here on the Shashthi, that is the sixth day. Goddess Durga comes with her children only for four days on the earth. Her children being Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kartikeya and Ganesh come with their pets along with mother Durga. The next three days, Saptami, Ashtami and Nabami respectively the goddess is given offerings and the air fills with he smell of the dhup, and sounds of the conch shells and the Dhaks. The captivating images, all intricately decorated and beautifully dressed, mesmerize the crowd that throng to have a glimpse of the goddess and take her blessings. The image of Durga shows her slaying the most powerful demon, Mahishasur.
This is the season for gifts. New clothes are purchased. Shops overflow with the latest goods. People take to the streets to visit the thousands of puja pandals which spring virtually at every street corner. The grand finale to the Puja comes with the immersion of all the idols in any water body around like the river, pond, lake or the Sea. The married women bid a tearful adieu by virtually playing holi with the sindur that they shower on the Goddess. The women smear it on each others faces taking it to be pious act. The last day is celebrated as Dashami, popularly known as Bijoya in Bengal. People greet each other by saying Shubho Bijoya and the children seek the blessings of their elders and they are given sweets and other goodies.
Lokkhi Puja: Just five days after the Bijoya Dashami on the full moon day of the month of October comes the Lakshmi Puja. On this day the people in Bengal worship the Goddess of wealth, Lakshami. They get the idols of Lakshmi and install them in the same pandals and prepare offering specially made of fruits and sweets to the goddess. The night, being a bright full moon with pleasant climate, is usually spent in the open singing and dancing, generally getting together.
Diwali or Kali Puja: Exactly fifteen days after the Lakshmi puja, comes Diwali on the new moon night of November. Diwali is festival of lights and is celebrated with much fervour all around west Bengal like tat f the whole of India. But it is commonly known as the Kali Pujo. Kali is worshipped as the Mother Goddess who protects from evil. The image of Kali is bit frightening and usually shows her with a severed head in one hand, her sword known as Kharga in the other. She is seen standing on her foot on Lord Shiva's chest and wearing a garland of skulls. Kali Puja is performed on a new moon night. As Kali is associated with dark rites and demon worship, the rituals performed are austere and offered with great devotion only in the middle of the night. The offerings usually also involve sacrificial killings. Its is said that Kali developed her thirst for blood after killing the demon Raktavera, who had acquired a boon of rebirth with his each drop of blood from Lord Brahma. The only way Kali could kill him was to hold him high, pierce him with a spear and drink all his blood as it gushed out. Kali is often portrayed with her tongue hanging out and her mouth dripping blood. Diwali is celebrated with lighting lamps and burning of crackers all over West Bengal.
Bhai Phonta: It is well known as Bhai Duj in the North, Bhau Bij in the west and Bhai Phonta in the East, especially West Bengal. This is the day meant for brothers and sisters. It is the day that the sisters apply vermillion and sandal wood on the foreheads of their brothers and worship the Gods for their well being. They cook good dishes for their brothers and get gifts from them in return.
Jaggadhatri Puja: Goddess Jaggadhatri is worshipped in the Bengali month of Kartik (November) and his Puja is unique only to Bengal. At Chandannagar near Kolkata images of the goddess are tall, pandals spectacular and the illumination unique. In fact, the illumination part is the most attractive feature here.
Ramazan Eid: Around the same time comes the Ramzan month of fasting and the Ramzan eid after one month of fasting.
Teesta Tea and tourism festival: Held every year in November - December, at Darjeeling, the Dooars and in Sikkim, the Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival is celebrated with a view to promote tourism in this region as a composite tourist destination, with its bounties in tea, timber and tourism. This inter state festival attracts lots of national as well as international tourist.
Christmas: The first foot on Indian soil put by the British was in Kolkata, rather West Bengal. No only the impression of the British that still remains in West Bengal than any other state, the largest number of Anglo - Indians are present in Kolkata. This gives the festival of Christmas a vibrant colour. Christmas is not only celebrated by the Christian community but even other people and communities of Kolkata as well. The famous Park Street is highly illuminated and people are seen walking n the streets enjoying the pleasant weather and he festivity by making merry.
Vishnupur Festival: The world famous terracotta temple town of Vishnupur organizes this festival every year between 27th and 31st December. Characterized by exhibition and sale of local handicrafts and performance of the rich musical tradition that Vishnupur boasts, this is an immensely popular festival.