Monday, October 26, 2009

Kolkata India: City of Pandals

India is a miasmic country with as many ethnic and cultural variations within its borders as most continents contain. There are 18 official languages in India and many more unofficial and orally-maintained indigenous ones, not to mention sharply distinct regional characteristics from all corners of this magnificent country. Attempting to discuss all of India’s charms and cultural must-sees is impossible in the scope of one teeny-tiny blog entry… today, I’d love to share the riches of Kolkata!

Kolkata (also known as Calcutta) is India’s third largest metropolis, and perhaps, the nation’s fine art capital. Kolkata’s astounding architectural feats, such as the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and Tipo Sultan Mosque are not empty sepulchers: the city is also well known for its musical and film cultural currents.

The city’s most famous Durga Puja festival is one of the most beautiful events held in Kolkata and usually falls in the month of October, though this year’s festival fell at the end of September 2009 (it is scheduled according to the traditional Hindi calendar). Its premise is the celebration of the Hindu goddess Durga, and includes the display of artists’ depiction of her, known as pandals.

Although the festival is widely practiced in the West Bengali region of India, Calcutta is home to the most opulent display with its adornment in lights and the nation’s largest collection of pandals; indeed, the celebration is noted as the Rio Carnival of the Eastern Hemisphere. In Kolkata specifically, the festival begins with thousands of people offering their prayers to their ancestors on the banks of the Ghats River. Songs and readings called Chandi and Aagamani welcome the goddess to the city in its early morning light. Once local drummers congregate and attract the population, the highly intricate puja rituals begin.

At night, after the official ceremonies, the city bursts with life and millions of national and international tourists flood the streets of light in order to feast on the beauty of the pandals. On the fourth and final day of the festival, the goddess is bade farewell until the next year, although no one really wants the goddess to leave…

And you won’t, either!

But for the foreign traveler, there are several health dangers and precautions to be noted and followed. Be sure that all of your general vaccines (such as MMR, varicella, polio, and DPT) are up-to-date before leaving. Also, if you will be leaving from a Yellow Fever zone before entering the country, India mandates that all travelers receive the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Call Passport Health for more information @ (732) 345-0029 and plan your trip to Kolkata!