CHENNAI: Far from Bengal, the flavours of Durga Puja are recreated through the many puja pandals in Chennai. With grand decorations, sumptuous food, magnificent idols of Goddess Durga and devotees dancing to the dhol, the city is rife with celebration. KV Navya and Roshne Balasubramanian tell you where to go pandal-hopping to experience the spirit and grandeur of pujo
Dakshini Society, Thirumangalam
As soon as we enter School Road in Anna Nagar, the high-octane sound of drumbeats lead us into Thanthai Periyar Hall. Decorative cloth streamers in powder pink and gold deck the auditorium. Senior citizens, men and children clad in traditional attire, and women draped in the famous lal paar sari sway their body to the beats as the dhakis (drummers) perform.
While soaking in the music, the crowd gathers in front of the ornate Durga idol and starts giving their offerings to ring in ashtami. This is the scene at the Dakshini Society’s Durga Puja-cum-25th anniversary celebrations. “When the association was initiated in 1995, there were only seven members.
Now, we have grown to 115 members,” says Mukul Dasgupta, secretary. The Durgotsava celebrations at Dakshini Society’s pandal not only features religious rituals, morning puja and aarti, but is also dotted with cultural programmes by members of the association to keep the visitors entertained.
The vibrant pandal is famous for its stalls that serve hot jalebis, Bengali snacks, luchi with cholar dal, pulao, hara dal, rasgulla and fish-based dishes. “The chefs are from Kolkata and authentically prepare the food. The priests who perform the pujas are also from Kolkata. So, everything is done the traditional way,” he shares.
SMCA Durga Puja, Besant Nagar
Located right next to the Besant Nagar bus terminus, this pandal organised by the South Madras Cultural Association boasts 21 stalls, mostly serving authentic Bengali food including Kolkata biryani, ilish paturi (hilsa fish cooked in banana plant and mustard), fish chops and kosha mangsho (Bengali mutton curry). While the puja celebrations go on the whole day, the cultural performances start after 7 pm and end at 12.30 am.
“This is our 41st year here and we are one of the largest pandal organisers in the city. When we established SMCA, only one major Durga Puja was being organised at T Nagar, so we started organising this pandal. Daily, there is a footfall of at least 1,500 people,” said Pradeep Benerjee, committee member. There is no particular theme that they follow every year, but the pandal is popular among Chennaiites for lip-smacking food. If you are going pandal-hopping, you cannot give this place a pass.
Bengal Association Durga Puja, T Nagar
One of the first Durga Puja pandals in Chennai, the Bengal Association is celebrating its 86th puja this year. Apart from the usual festivities, this place is famous for its music, dances and even theatre performances of some of the oldest folklores associated with the festival.
One of the highlights is that the artisans of the Durga idol and all the performers come down to Chennai from Kolkata every year. "It takes a month to make the idol and they do it with much precision. Even the priests are from Kolkata. Also, we have recently adopted green initiatives. We stopped using water bottles. Most of the items used to distribute food are eco-friendly,” said Soumya Guha Thakurtam secretary of the association.
They also provide vegetarian food free of cost during lunch in the dining hall. If you’d like to parcel the meal, you need to pay Rs 20 for the container. After 7 pm, you can indulge in some delicious Bengali delicacies, especially sweets made by home chefs. The pandal witnesses an average footfall of 5,000 daily.
Dakshin Chennai Prabasi Cultural Association, Sholinganallur
This pandal brings with it colour, life and celebration. It is a crowd-puller that showcases the idol of Goddess Durga in the traditional ekchala style. People flock in large numbers in the evenings, to get a glimpse of the devi in sparkling lights. “We have been setting up a pandal since 2014. The highlight of this year is the Kumari Puja, which is usually not done anywhere in Chennai, will be held on Monday between 10 and 11 am. Celebrating the sanctity of the girl child, young girls are worshipped as a part of the puja,” said Ardhendu Chakraborti, president of the association.
Apart from people belonging to the Bengali and Odia community, many Chennaiities visit this venue to try out the Bengali delicacies at the stalls set up inside the pandal. By Sunday afternoon, as many as 3,000 people visited the pandal. In the afternoon, bhog is provided at `200 per plate. If you’d like to try the non-vegetarian delicacies at this pandal, visit after 7 pm. Celebrations are on till past midnight, and above all, it is an air-conditioned pandal!
Madras Kali Bari, West Mambalam
Located inside the Kolkata Kali temple in West Mambalam, the Madras Kali Bari Pandal celebrates both Tamil and Bengali traditions of Dussehra, and makes for a deeply spiritual celebration. At the entrance, you will find an elegantly decorated Durga idol. The hall further leads to a narrow path that ends in a beautiful golu. "Each year we follow different themes for golu. This year, it is Pandaripuram. The evenings get interesting here as the Tamil crowd and the Bengali crowd interact with each other and get to know the traditions,” said one of the members at the venue. Here, lunch consisting of authentic Bengali delicacies is provided free of cost. The pandal closes at 10 pm.