My first ever visit to Kolkata during the Durga Puja of 2022 was a rewarding experience. The ten-day festival was being celebrated in its full force after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and people were excited to celebrate goddess Durga’s victory over demon Mahisasura. In December 2021, Kolkata’s Durga Puja was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of ‘intangible cultural heritage.’
As the city celebrated, swarms of people were to be seen around pandals. Crowded buses ploughed the streets even at 3:00am. Biryani and kathi roll joints had people queueing up late at night. In neighbourhoods like College Street, loudspeakers played Bengali songs as well as warned people to be careful with their belongings. Large processions were seen slowly moving towards the ghats of Hooghly river where huge idols of Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya were immersed in water. People of all age were seen dancing their hearts out as the traditional ‘dhak’ drums played non-stop. A spectacular sight was to observe the ‘dhunuchi naach’ ritual that involves dancing with dhunuchi – an incense burner made of clay – in which coconut husk and camphor burns with ‘dhuno’ incense.
In all of this, I walked around Kolkata as days turned into nights and nights into days. I found myself walking a dozen or more kilometres nearly every day, visiting pandals, joining processions, and returning at 4am – photographing the charming city immersed in the mood of celebrations. As I photographed, I found myself more confident than before. I felt as if I could blend well – disappear even – in the streets of Kolkata and not feeling like a stranger. I photographed more at night than during the day and even used flash after a long time.
The result is an intimate look at Kolkata – a city once known as Calcutta.