Thursday, 6 October 2011

Kolkata's Cult of Durga: The Immersion Of Durga

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- All Rights Reserved

There's little doubt that today's day-long photo shoot was one of the most exhausting I've experienced...I would rank it just under the day-long photo shoots during the Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela in 2001. Kolkata's legendary heat and humidity, over and above the incessant in-motion kaleidoscope of colors and sound, all contributed to an immensely rewarding day, but also fatiguing.

The day's photo shoot started with thousands of Bengalis married women performing the sindoor (vermillion powder) ceremony, which symbolizes the farewell to the Durga goddess. This ceremony is held at pandals all over the city, and it takes place before the immersion of Durga in the river.

Following the farewell ceremony held at a private residence to which we were invited, the representations of Durga and her four children are loaded on trucks for immersions, a tradition that symbolises her return to her marital abode.

We followed the idols to the ghats, and witnessed at least three large immersions. These ghats were extremely crowded, but I am accustomed to wiggle through the crowds to find a good spot. The rest of the group also did very well in that respect.

Some of the Durga idols were taken for immersion in raucous processions. The loud chants of 'Bolo Durga mai-ki jai' and drumbeats accompanied the idols to the Ganges river. The climax is when the Durga idol is cast in the water. This symbolizes the departure of the deity to her home with her husband in the Himalayas.