Festivals in Kolkata

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Kolkata (or Calcutta) holds many festivals throughout the year. Major festivals include Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Holi, Diwali, Saraswati Puja, Jagaddhatri Puja, Rath Yatra, Lakshmi Puja, Poush Parbon, Poila Boishakh etc. Durga Puja and Kali Puja, which are the two largest festivals of West Bengal, features colourful pandals, decorative statues of Hindu goddess Durga and Kali, lighting decorations and fireworks. Kolkata Book Fair is held at the end of January every year. It is the biggest cultural festival of the city. Other festivals include Janmashtami, Ganesh Chathurthi, Maha Shivratri, Kalpataru Day, Vishwakarma Puja, Kartik Puja, Bhai Phonta, Akshay Tritiya, Rakhi Bandhan, Annapurna Puja, Mahavir Jayanti, Eid, Muharram, Christmas, Buddha Purnima, Maghotsav, Dover Lane Music Festival, Nandikar's National Theatre Festival, Rabindra Jayanti, Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally, International History and Heritage Exhibition, Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Kolkata International Film Festival etc. As one of the largest cities of India and its Cultural Capital, Independence Day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti are widely observed national holidays in Kolkata. Today, the festivals of Kolkata broadly reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of India as well as of Bengal.

Bengali New Year[edit]

The Bengali New Year or "Poila Baisakh" (the first day of the month of Baisakh) is celebrated around 15 April on the basis of the lunar calendar of Bangabda. Visitors to homes are greeted with sweets, and trade establishments are decorated with auspicious garlands of marigold and 'aam' leaves. Shop-owners and businessmen offer puja at Dakshineshwar Kali Temple and Kalighat Kali Temple in the morning with new ledgers(Halkhata). Businessmen also offer free sweets as a goodwill gesture on this day. It is celebrated by cultural programmes throughout Kolkata.

Religious festivals[edit]

Durga Puja[edit]

Traditional Durga (details in external link Durga Puja, the biggest festival)
a Durga puja pandal
Characteristic neon light images glow as late night revellers throng the streets of Kolkata during Durga Puja.

The Durga Puja festival, held in accordance to the lunar calendar of 'Bangabda' in September–October, is the most vibrant time in Kolkata. Durga Puja is the most important, most popular and largest festival of Kolkata. More than 4500 pandals are set up in Kolkata and its suburbs, apart from large number of old family pujas. Kolkata is famous for its vibrant nightlife and glamourous cultural activities during Durga Puja which continue till Kojagori Lakshmi Puja. Durga Puja has become Kolkata's biggest public spectacle, art event and consumerist carnival. Streets, alleys, parks, gardens and most of the neighbourhoods glitter with lighting decorations. Shops, restaurants and eateries stay open all night. Songs and mantras are chanted through loudspeakers. Pandal-visiting with friends, family members and relatives along with other festivities continue late into night. This Hindu religious festival commemorates the mythology of Goddess Durga and her trusty lion steed overpowering and killing the demon Mahishasura (Buffalo-demon). The first ceremony takes place on Mahalaya, the day the Goddess was conceived, and ends on Bijaya Dashami (the victorious tenth day), the day the Goddess finally kills the demon in battle. Puja is performed only on the sixth to the tenth day. Kolkata celebrates Durga Puja with elaborate pandal—temporary decorative scaffolding serving the purpose of a temple—constructions on virtually every street. Crowds of people throng the streets of Kolkata all night; the number is purported to be a few million on the climactic eighth and ninth nights, possibly the second largest annual human conglomerate after the Hajj. On this festival, there is a practice of giving gifts—usually new clothes in the latest fashion in pre-puja get-togethers, and sweets at post-puja get-togethers (Bijaya Sammelani). The festival is commemorated by the publishing of Annuals (Sharadiya or Puja Annual) by most Kolkata magazines and presses.

Today's Puja goes far beyond religion and ritual worship. In fact, visiting the pandals recent years, one can only say that Durga Puja today is the largest outdoor art festival on earth. In the 1990s, a preponderance of architectural models came up on the pandal exteriors, but today the art motif extends to elaborate interiors, executed by trained artists, with consistent stylistic elements, carefully executed and bearing the name of the artist.

At the end of the six days long festival, the idol is taken in a procession of the deity to her home with her husband in the Himalayas. On Vijaya Dashami, the idols are carried out in large processions from all corners of the city to various ghats of the Ganga river. The processions end up with Dhunuchi-naach, dance, maddening revelries and Sindoor-khela after which the idols are immersed into the river amidst frolicking cheers. After this, in a tradition called Vijaya Dashami, families visit each other and sweetmeats are offered to visitors (Dashami is literally tenth day and Vijay is victory).

Kali Puja & Diwali[edit]

Kali Puja.

Kali Puja is primarily a Bengali Hindu festival, held in accordance to the lunar calendar around the first week of November. The Goddess Kali is worshipped at night on one night in thousands of pandals, temples and homes. Animals, especially goats are ritually sacrificed in some places during the puja. Kali Puja is light-up night for Kolkata, corresponding to the North Indian festival of Diwali (pronounced Dipabali in Bengali), where people light candles in memory of the souls of departed ancestors and decorate their homes with lights and rangoli. Most homes celebrate the evening with a wondrous display of candles along roof tops, verandas and window sills; during the afternoon, thousands of beautifully decorated hot-air balloons fill the sky. This is also a night of spectacular fireworks, with local youth burning sparklers and crackers throughout the night. Luminous darting streaks and deafening bangs and booms enlivens the atmosphere. However, Kolkata had to pass legislature a few years back to ban fireworks which break the 65 decibel sound limit, as ambient noise levels were going up to 90 decibels or more in parts of the city.

Saraswati Puja[edit]

Kolkata – Saraswati idol being made at Kumartuli
Saraswati idol in Hindu School, Kolkata,India

Saraswati Puja—the puja of the Goddess of Learning, Saraswati—is celebrated with domestic pujas, and familial gatherings in Kolkata. The typical fare (bhog) which accompanies the Puja depends dramatically on whether the family is initially from West Bengal (or ghoti) or from East Bengal—now Bangladesh—(or bangal). Ghotis have vegetarian fare, while bangals partake paired Hilsa fishes. Idols for these and other Pujas are made in the famous potters' district of Kumartuli. In Bengal, during Saraswati Puja, students celebrate the Homecoming of the Goddess of Learning. Books are often worshipped in lieu of the clay image of the Goddess. The puja is especially celebrated in schools and other educational institutes. And gives an opportunity of free-mixing among school children and students.


Colours for Holi on sale at a market in Kolkata.

Dol, corresponding to the North Indian festival of Holi, is celebrated on account of the god Lord Krishna, and is supposedly coincident with the advent of spring. Holi is locally known here as Dolyatra or Basanta Utsab. The celebrations start in the city with the burning of Holika bonfire on the night before Holi. The festival of colour involve throwing and sprinkling powdered colour (aabir), and water colour (jal rang) on others. Unsuspecting passers by are often drenched by coloured water balloons, and celebrations often get rowdy with the men partaking the intoxicating drink of shiddhi (bhang), often laced with the stronger charas. Nowadays, Holi party usually means frolicking dance and various delicacies like sweets, biryani, beverages etc.

Rath Yatra[edit]

ISCON Rath Yatra, Kolkata 2015 in Kolkata.

The symbolic movement of the chariot of Jagannath is celebrated with much fanfare in Kolkata due to the huge chariot brought out by ISKCON. The destination of the cult figures are the Maidan. Thousands of people spill into the roads to witness the pulling of the chariot. The "idols" are brought back after a week in the chariot in the festival of Ulto Ratha. Images of Jagannath are set upon the chariots and pulled through the streets by the children as well as by the adults in many neighbourhoods and areas. The week is synonymous with numerous fairs (Rather mela) held all over Kolkata parks, known for their distinctive food and carousels. Myth has it that it always rains on the day of Ratha Yatra in Kolkata. Rath Yatra is an ancient culture in Bengal in spite of having its origin at Puri, Odisha.

Vishwakarma Puja[edit]

Vishwakarma Puja is a unique day in Kolkata when all factories, shops, engineering institutes organise puja of Vishwakarma, the Hindu god of mechanics and crafts. It usually includes kite-flying as a celebration.


Janmashtami in Kolkata is mostly confined to personal and family worship of Lord Krishna. Special puja is held at famous Madanmohan Temple of Baghbazar in North Kolkata and Birla Temple in South Kolkata where devotees celebrate Janmashtami by praying, fasting and listening to devotional songs. Images of infant Lord Krishna are placed in swings and cradles at temples and homes and sweets are offered to the visitors. It is a public holiday in West Bengal.

Jagaddhatri Puja[edit]

Unlike Durga and Kali Puja, Jagaddhatri Puja sees much less celebration in the city. However, at Chandannagar in Hooghly district, it is a five-day long puja, with pompous lighting decorations and pandals. Jagaddhatri Puja is important because it brings an end to the month-long festive season that starts with Durga Puja.


The two Eids, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha commemorating the passing of the month of fasting, Ramadan and the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son for Allah, are the biggest festivals for Muslims in West Bengal. As Kolkata is considered to be the gastronomic capital of Eastern India, the feasts are often lavish street affairs open to all, and restaurants specializing in Islamic cuisine like Shiraz, Arsalan, Nizam and Aminia offer special menus for the day. Eid celebrations in Kolkata are particularly visible in Muslim-dominated areas and localities like Rajabazaar, Colootolla, Park Circus, Chandni Chowk, Chitpur, Metiabruz, Watgunje etc. The areas begin to have a festive look weeks before Eid and streets bustle with devotees and shoppers in the evening. As the month of Ramadan approaches, the Muslim shops of those areas fill with beautifully gilded and bound copies of Koran, dazzling waistcoats and kurtas, prayer caps, ittar, surma, gleaming hookah pipes and heaps of sweet vermicelli, nuts, dates and pomegranates. The largest gathering for Eid prayers in Kolkata takes place at Red Road. After the prayer is over, people visit homes of relatives, friends and neighbours; exchange gifts and greetings; eat special dishes and engage in joyful activities throughout the day.


Christmas in Bow barracks
Shops selling Christmas decorations in Kolkata.

Christmas was a big festival in Kolkata during the British Raj, but has slowly declined in importance since. The Anglo-Indian community and Bengali Christians still celebrate Christmas in a big way, with a huge service at St. Paul's Cathedral and with the Park Street restaurant district and New Market decked out on the 24th and 25th. The Bengali Hindu community of the city also takes part in the celebrations. Park Street, New Market and Bow Barrack are the centrestages of Christmas in Kolkata. The multicultural nature of Kolkata becomes apparent as the most sought after confectionaries during this time were from the British confectioners Flury's and Jewish confectioners Nahoum's. Like elsewhere in India and rest of the world, Christmas mood continues in Kolkata till the new year ushers in. non christians also enjoy this festival. children decorate christmas trees and wait for their gifts from santa claus

Cultural festivals[edit]

Kolkata Christmas Festival[edit]

Kolkata Christmas Festival (KCF) started in 2011 as a celebration of Christmas. It is held on Park Street, the traditional centre of Christmas celebrations in Kolkata, from mid-December to early January. The fortnight-long festival is organised by the Bengal Tourism Department. People from all over the city and its suburbs, irrespective of religion, attend the festival.

Events at the festival include city bands performing and school students participating in a Christmas parade. There are also dozens of food stalls set up along Park Street selling cakes and other Christmas foods.

Dover Lane Music Festival[edit]

The Dover Lane Music Festival is a Hindustani classical music, with performances from established musicians from several countries as well as new musicians. It has been held for the past years[year needed] in the January conglomerate holiday (23 – 26 January) period and comprises three all-night recitals. Initially held open air at Dover Lane in Ballygunge area of South Kolkata, due to the large crowds, it is now held at the open-air theatre Nazrul Mancha on the Southern Avenue (Ballygunge area). It is held in conjunction with the Dover Lane Music Conference.

Calcutta Book Fair[edit]

Main article: Calcutta Book Fair

The 'Kolkata International Book Fair or Kolkata Boi Mela is the world's largest non-trade annual book fair as well as the largest book fair in Asia. Held on the Milan Mela ground near Science City on E.M.Bypass, this fair has over 600 stalls, selling over Rs.23,000,000 worth of books and attracting more than 2.5 million visitors annually. It was started in 1970 by the Publishers' and Booksellers' Association. It has a Monmarte with new poets and artists, an annual theme country with authors like Günter Grass and Richard Dawkins visiting the fair as chief guests and it offers a typical fairground experience with a literary theme with picknickers, singer-songwriters, artistes and candyfloss vendors. It starts on the last Wednesday of January, and continues for twelve days, including two weekends.

Kolkata International Cinema Festival[edit]

The Kolkata International Cinema Festival is screened annually from 10–17 November. The largest of its kind in India, it was started in 1995 and is affiliated with the International Federation of Film Producers' Association (FIAPF) in Paris. Kolkata's strong ties to film-making (through such icons as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and, more recently[when?], Rituparno Ghosh) has boosted the festival and it screens a number of international, critically acclaimed new films every year.

National Theatre Festival[edit]

Nandikar's National Theatre Festival was initiated in 1984 to commemorate Nandikar's silver jubilee, and is now an annual event in Kolkata. The festival is organized by the Nandikar theatre group.

National Children's Theatre Festival[edit]

The National Theatre [Festival][1] is an annual event (first week of June)organised by Kolkata [Eso Natak Shikhi][www.esonatakshikhi.com], a Kolkata-based group theatre working with children since 1990. Teams from India and abroad participate and perform at Rabindra Sadan. The festival is assisted by the Ministry of Culture and Information, Government of West Bengal, and the Ministry of Transport & Sports, Government of West Bengal. Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Govt. of India.

International History & Heritage Exhibition[edit]

International History & Heritage Exhibition, also known as Itihaas Utsav (আন্তর্জাতিক ইতিহাস উৎসব) organised by Sabarna Sangrahashala, is an event held every February at Barisha.[1] The four day long event displays rare artifacts, documents and information on the cultural heritage of Bengal, India and the World.[2]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ http://kamdev.faithweb.com/photo2_2.html
  2. ^ Bangiya Sabarna Katha Kalishetra Kalikatah by Bhabani Roy Choudhury, Manna Publication. ISBN 81-87648-36-8