Almost every culture on the planet has a “triumph of good over evil” story. Most major cities have a monumental festival: Rio has its mesmerizing carnival, Munich its folk festival like Oktoberfest and New Orleans its musical Jazz fest. For Bengalis and Kolkata, it’s the essence of Durga Puja, when for 5 days, Kolkata (and its 15 million population) transforms the “good over evil” story to a gala of transcending proportions. This is when Kolkata actually lives its moniker: the City of Joy.  More than religion, it is the celebration of cultural diversity, creativity and any set of beliefs that one can loose themselves in. In fact, one hasn’t experienced Kolkata without seeing Durga Puja at least once.

© Apratim Saha. Every morning and evening, pandals are cleansed and setup for daily rituals.

© Apratim Saha. Every morning and evening, pandals are cleansed and setup for daily rituals.

Unlike most other Indian cities under a festive spell, Durga puja induced Kolkata, overdoses on different varieties of meat, seafood, rolls, street snacks and sweets. This is also the only time of the year when the generally lethargic Bengalis find their adrenaline rush to stay out till wee hours of dawn, only to come home for quick refresh and start off yet another day of celebrations. It’s a time of friendships, gossip (adda), bonding, food, pandal hopping and shopping.

© Apratim Saha. Evening prayers and aarti brings entire neighborhoods together

© Apratim Saha. Evening prayers and aarti brings entire neighborhoods together

Preparations start months in advance with the idol making (protima), that has evolved over the decades to a level of creativity that will give the best artists in the world a run for their money. Along with that pandal designs that mimic a Bollywood production set, down to lighting and acoustics compete for honors that fuel deep rivalries.

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© Apratim Saha. A woman artisan in Kumartuli paints the eye of the Goddess leading up to the festival

At its core, Durga is the symbol and celebration of the power of women. Durga (Mother) is welcomed along with her children and the mighty demon Mahisasura. Traditions also worship young girls aged between one and sixteen (kumari puja), while women playing with vermillion (sindur) on the last day is a transcendent experience (similar to the Holi in Vrindavan).

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© Lopamudra Talukdar. Bonedi bari pujas are more traditional celebrations, run by women of illustrious north Kolkata family homes.

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Access to these household pujas are restricted but can be pre-arranged for an intimate shooting experience.

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Access to these household pujas are restricted but can be pre-arranged for an intimate shooting experience. Here, women of the house oversee preparations ahead of Durga’s arrival.

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Sindoor Khela is a last day ritual where married women spray each other with vermillion and treat each other to sweets and food, with wishes of good health and long life.

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Sindoor Khela is a last day ritual where married women -dressed in their finest silks and gold – spray each other with vermillion and treat each other to sweets and food, with wishes of good health and long life.

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Durga visarjan on the Ganges to bid her farewell with the promise of welcoming her back next year

© Lopamudra Talukdar. Durga visarjan on the Ganges to bid her farewell with the promise of welcoming her back next year

Loculars aims to bring experiences like these to life for travel photographers. The City of Joy offers numerous such occasions – be it the epic Durga Puja (2017 dates: Sep 26 – Sep 30), the Kolkata book fair, host of festivals through the year in and around Bengal, or the extremely diverse life and communities on the streets of Kolkata. Stay tuned, follow Loculars on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook 

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