Festivals are a tool to bring life to a state of exuberance and enthusiasm. Without them, life would become an endless series of mundane Wednesdays. The Babu’s and Moshai’s of Bangla know how to create an environment of energy, zeal, and rejuvenation. With myriad festivals in West Bengal, one can look forward to some great fun and fervor. The incredible state indeed has a lot more to offer beyond the ancient history and mesmerizing culture.
As natives of West Bengal said, “Baaro Maash E Tero Parbon'' which means thirteen festivals in twelve months, life in West Bengal is full of enthusiasm and delight all throughout the year. Though the list is longer than thirteen festivals, we have handpicked a few of the unique festivals celebrated in West Bengal. To celebrate the never-ending and eternal spirit of the community in West Bengal, get apprised with the festivals listed below that add more charm.
Durga Puja is a famous festival of West Bengal that is celebrated with great joy. Some festivals are so deeply related to a place and Durga Puja in West Bengal is one such evident festival that is known to all. Also known as Durga Pujo, Akalbodhan, Sharadiya Pujo, Maha Pujo, Maayer Pujo, the popular Hindu festival is marked with the arrival of Goddess Durga on earth along with her clan that includes Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Saraswati, and Lord Kartikeya.
Starting with Mahalaya, followed by Shasthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, and Dashami, on the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th days respectively, Durga Puja is an elaborate affair of 10 days, with the last five days being the most famous. It is believed that Goddess Durga arrived on earth to destroy Mahishasura who was a demon king with the power of immortality and head of buffalo. Bloated with a boon according to which he could not be killed by any man or animal, he thought he was invincible and therefore wished to conquer all the three worlds; earth, heaven, and hell.
Shakti, the ultimate female power, thereupon took the form of Goddess Durga and killed him after 15 days of fierce war with him. On the 6th day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Katyayani. From this day the pandals are inaugurated. On the 7th day, the Goddess is bathed and invoked by tying nine plants called Nabapatrika. The elaborate ritual of offering flowers to the Goddess is performed on the 8th day while Homa and Bhog are offered on the 9th day. It is believed that on the 10th day the Goddess emerged victorious against Mahishasura.
The day is marked by many rituals and ends with sindoor Khela followed by the procession of clay sculpture idols that are later immersed in the river. It is believed that on this day Durga returns back to Shiva and therefore it is considered an auspicious day for married women and they indulge in sindoor Khela, a ritual for their blissful marital life. This elaborate festival is a true depiction of grand festivities and the excitement in the folks of West Bengal that are beyond the caste or creed.
A unique festival in West Bengal, Jamai Shasti personifies the beautiful relationship of a son-in-law with his in-laws. The name 'Jamai' means 'son-in-law' and 'Shashti' means 'the sixth day', which is why it is celebrated on the sixth day of Shukla paksha in Jyestha month (May or June). The traditional festival of Jamai Shashti lays the foundation for strong family bonding.
On this special day, Son-in-law is greeted with rituals; Phota (Teeka) of curd is applied on his forehead and a yellow thread, which is called Shasti Suto is tied around his wrist. This special thread is dyed in yellow color with the help of turmeric and is believed that Maa Shashti, who takes care of her children has blessed this thread and therefore shall take care of their son-in-law too.
A feast is organized for the son in law and while he gorges on a delectable course meal, the mother-in-law fans him with the palm leaf. This is a beautiful and distinctive festival of West Bengal that brings the relatives closer and reflects the warmth of relationships.
Another unique folk festival, Charak Puja in West Bengal is celebrated every year in April (Poila Baisakh) by the tribal people living in rural areas. During this festival, folks dress up like cosmetic Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, and other deities. Charak tree is worshipped and several penance acts are performed by devotees. After the month-long fasting, the devotees gather to step up the high bamboo stage which is 10-15 feet tall.
They hurl themselves forward at these bamboo poles and fall on the ground. And what stands extraordinary is that the people who perform penance escape unhurt despite falling on glass, thorns, knives & other devious weapons. It is believed that the blessing of God keeps them safe from the pain they inflict on themselves to display their devotion.
It is how they impale their body parts without feeling the pain. The festival not only reflects the blind faith but also the eagerness to accept penance to achieve salvation.
Harbinger of the harvest season, Makar Sankranti is celebrated as Poush Sankranti with a unique style in West Bengal. Different parts of the state celebrate Makar Sankranti in its own style and names. Every year Gangasagar Mela is organized in Gangasagar which is closest to the confluence, where the Ganga joins the Bay of Bengal. A large number of people congregate here to take a holy dip at the confluence and purge themselves of sins. Joydev Mela is famous as itinerant singers from West Bengal and various parts of the country gather at Joydev Kenduli for an annual meet.
It is believed that the author of Geeta Govindam, Joydev was born here and therefore the annual fair is organized in his honor. Tusu is a unique harvest festival that is celebrated by the tribal community of West Bengal. After a month-long culmination, the fair is organized in Deulghata and women sing folk songs in honor of the Goddess. In Darjeeling, it is celebrated as Magey Sankranti. Also, Poush Mela, which is the biggest extravaganza in West Bengal after Durga Puja is organized at Shantiniketan in the last week of December every year. Local artisans and tourists from all over the world come together to celebrate the spirit of folk culture in West Bengal. Apart from a rampant display of folk dances, music, and exquisite culture, one can find scrumptious food, leather bags, earthenwares, paintings in the fair. well organized by West Bengal Tourism, this festival is worth exploring.
More colloquially known as Pohela, Poila Baisakh is the traditional New Year day that is celebrated on the 14th of April every year in West Bengal. This festival is celebrated with processions, fairs, family time, and traditional Bong food. Also referred to as Nabo Barsho, which means New Year, it is observed as a state holiday and folks of West Bengal mark the day by taking a dip in rivers and offering prayers to Lakshmi and Ganesha.
Apart from cleaning and decorating houses with Rangoli, people in West Bengal gather to offer prayers to the rising sun as it is considered to be auspicious. Bangla Sangit Mela is organized by the government, many professional and amateur singers, dancers, and theatre artists participate in the fair. Poila Baisakh is also associated with Notun Jama which means a new dress.
It is considered auspicious to wear new clothes on the first day of the year and therefore people of West Bengal follow this tradition religiously and with grace. For the traders and businessmen in West Bengal, this day is considered as the Halkhata time – the auspicious day to open the new ledgers.
No festivity in the land of foodies is sans grand spread. Many people cook bong specialties in their own kitchen whilst the restaurants are up with the mouth-watering spread to please their guests. Amidst all the celebrations, Bengali makes sure to live through the spirit of the new beginning and new hope.
Jagannath Rath Yatra is the most popular festival in the city of Kolkata. The cult of Jagannath Rath Yatra is also followed in West Bengal since 1396. A week-long festival with ceremonial Rath Yatras is held at Kolkata, Mayapur in Nadia, Mahesh in Hooghly, and Mahisadal in East Midnapore districts. On the day of the Ratha Yatra, the Jagannath idol along with the idols of Balaram and Subhadra are placed on the 50 feet high chariot that weighs about 125 tonnes.
A blue jay bird (Neel Kanth) is made to sit at the top of the chariot and as it flies away from the chariot, the procession begins with fervor. A large number of people gather to pull long ropes called 'Roshi' that are tied to the holy chariots. Pulling this holy rope is considered very auspicious and devotees participate in this grand and age-old tradition with strong beliefs and immense devotion. Rath Yatra is amongst the most religious and oldest traditions of our country. Every year, people flock in large numbers to participate in the auspicious chariot festival in West Bengal
India is a land of myriad cultures and therefore the festivals are unique in every part of the country. West Bengal is a state that boasts ancient history and rich culture through festivals that are distinct and alluring. Holi, Diwali, Christmas, Eid, Muharram, and other festivals that are popular in India are also celebrated in West Bengal.
Saraswati Puja in West Bengal is performed between January and February. Considered to be one of the distinctive celebrations held in West Bengal, Saraswati Puja is held on the day of the Goddess Saraswati’s homecoming. Also known as Vasant Panchami in the Northern areas of the country, this festival is celebrated on the 5thday of Magha month.
An auspicious occasion for education and learning related things, Bengalis have a special significance on this day. For the children to begin their academic learning, it is considered to be a highly fortunate occasion. During the puja, the idols of Goddess Saraswati are nicely decorated and the girls wear colorful attires to take darshan of the goddess.
Another very significant Hindu festival celebrated by the Bengalis in October, Lakshmi Puja is celebrated throughout the state with great enthusiasm and passion. To be a part of this grand festivity, People from different parts of the world come to visit the state during this festival. This festival is celebrated after a week of Vijay Dashmi.
Maa Lakshmi who is believed to be the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and people devote their respect and gratitude towards the goddess. A festival of lights, it is celebrated at home by performing all the required rituals by a priest or by on your own.
Only Vedic festival that is dedicated to the ChhathiMaiya (Goddess Usha mentioned in Vedic scriptures) and Surya Dev (Sun God), Chhath Puja is a primitive Hindu festival. Performed to pay gratitude to Lord Surya, the Chhath Puja is celebrated to seek blessings of the sun god for sustaining life on earth. People request the Lord to grant them a few wishes while performing the rituals of this festival. It is mentioned in the Hindu scriptures that worshiping Lord Surya helps devotees cure several types of ailments such as leprosy. Lord Surya also blesses the worshiper’s family, friends, and elders by ensuring longevity and prosperity of them.