The best way to understand a foreign land and enjoy vacationing while there is to understand local culture and festivals. Calcutta is a mesmerizing city in West Bengal, India, attracting foreign tourists from all over the world just by the mention of its name. The culture and festivals in Calcutta are very colorful and unique in many ways. Below are few of the major ones.
The fact that Calcutta (or Kolkata, its modern name) observes two New Year celebrations tell tourists that they are in a city that is made up of two (or many) different worlds. Calcutta welcomes the Western New Year on the night of December 31st with much fanfare. (Most of the action happens in Park Street.) After four months, the city celebrates the Bengali New Year around April 15.
The Bengali New Year is based on the lunar calendar and called by locals “Poila Boishakh”, which means “the first day of the month of Boishakh”, the first month of the Bengali calendar. Poila Boishakh is celebrated with a number of cultural programs that take place all over the city. The Government of West Bengal organizes several fairs, the most famous of which is the Bangla Sangit Mela. Locals wear new clothes and go around meeting people because they believe these are auspicious days for marriage and new businesses. They visit homes and exchange sweets as a gesture of goodwill. To welcome the first day of the year, young women wear saris with red borders while the men wear traditional dhuti and kurta during an early morning procession called “Probhat Pheri”.
The Bengali New Year is also a time for prayers, chants and offerings. People march to the temple in the evening to receive blessings from the almighty. They believe that this is the best time to start any kind of human endeavors. For instance, accountants and businessmen purchase new accounting books and call the priests to offer chants and write the shostik symbol on their books. The shostik is a Hindu swastika.
Another major religious festival is the Durga Puja, which usually happens around the first week of October according to the lunar calendar of Bangabda. This festival commemorating the triumph of the Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura is the most vibrant and anticipated religious event. The 10-arm goddess symbolizes power and truth.
Calcutta is at its liveliest during Durga Puja as people hop on foot with merrymaking from house to house. Streets are flooded with lights, ornamentations and a variety of local delicacies. It is so festive that many consider this the Rio Carnival in the East. Every city street is decorated with elaborate decorative scaffolding called “pandal”, which serves as temporary temples. The 10-day Durga Puja festival climaxes on the 8th and 9th day with millions of locals and devotees crowding the colorfully decorated streets. The 10th day is when the goddess finally kills the demon.
The celebration ends with a procession that takes the image of the goddess to the river. With loud chants and drumbeats, she is cast into the water to symbolize her departure for the Himalayas to be reunited with her husband and family. It is also traditional that after this procession, families visit each other’s homes giving gifts, usually new clothes and sweets. The festival is then commemorated later with the publication of the Annuals by most local magazines.
Tourists come for the amazing culture and festivals in Calcutta. Other national and religious events to look forward to in this mystical city are the Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Dol, Ratha Yatra, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, Dover Lane Music Festival, Calcutta Book Fair, and Kolkata International Film Festival, among others.