There is a famous Bengali saying 'Baro mashe tero parbon' which literally translates as 13 festivals in 12 months. This famous Bengali saying however grossly underestimates the number of festivals, civil and religious, celebrated in Kolkata, where communities belonging to all religions and from all over the subcontinent have brought along their own local cults which even within the Hindu religion vary from area to area.
New Year's Day
The first festival of the year in West Bengal is the New Year's Day. Although most communities follow their own calendar, the first day of the Christian year is celebrated by all. Buses are garlanded. The state is in a festive mood, with decorations from Christmas past still very much in evidence.
As year come to an end the people of West Bengal and get ready to mark the beginning of another year. On the night of 31st December, which is usually chill due to peak winter people forgetting the cold are seen to move around the side walks of Park Street through out the night merry making to glory. On New Year's Eve, parties are organized in clubs, hotels, restaurants and private homes. People go to bed late. Those who manage will go to the races the next day in the afternoon-a hangover 'must' in Kolkata.
The Makar Sankranti festival which falls in mid-January and marks the winter solstice. During this period pilgrims in numbers more than 500,000 gather on Sagar Dwip, an island some 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Kolkata, for the three-day Ganga Sagar Mela. The pilgrims on the way to the mela sleeps in make shift tents erected in the Maidan . The festival lasts from 12th to 14th. The Baul Mela beings on the day the Ganga Sagar Mela ends. Bauls are singers belonging to the Hindu Vaishnab and Sufi Muslim from all over Bengal as well as from Bangladesh. They gather at Bolpur which is 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Kolkata and sings enchanting devotional tunes for three nights
Late in January or early February, Saraswati Puja, the festival of Goddess of Learning, is celebrated by students, artists and professors.
As the winter recedes and spring approaches, the city get ready for the celebration of Vasant Panchami. On this day primarily students, artists and professors offer worship to Devi Swaraswati the Goddess of Knowledge and music.
Dol Purnima more popularly known as Holi is a festival of colours and the city celebrates it with the traditional gaiety. Holi is also known as the Dol Yatra in Bengal. It is celebrated by people of all walks of life both young and old by smearing each other with coloured powder especially red. Colours are also mixed with water and sprayed on passer-by. The ever enthusiastic group enjoys by drinking bhang which is a mild-milk beverage laced with marijuana. Social barriers are broken. This is a time when lower-cast plays with the upper-cast and poor may play with the rich.
Marking the beginning of the Bengali New Year is Noboborsho. It falls on the mid of April the approach of summer. Bengali businessman opens his new account book the halkhata. The account books, statues of Ganesh and Lakshmi is taken to the Temple for blessings. The businessmen invites their loyal customers in the evening who make a token payment to open the new account book. The shops are heavily decorated with floral garlands, young banana and auspicious mango leaves and the customers are greeted with sweets.
A few days after noboborsho, on Mahabir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of last and greatest Jain prophets, there are processions of the Svetamber Sect from Harrison Road to Kalakar Street, and of the Digambar Sect from Belgachaia to Baisakh Lane.
The Rath Yatra festival falls on the late of June or early July. It is celebrated in the honour of Lord Jagannath an avatar of Vishnu. Processions are organised in Kolkata by the ISKON and in Serampore, north of Kolkata. People scramble around to get a chance to pull the sacred rope of the huge chariot. Replicas of Jagannath's chariot are sold at Kalighat. Children decorate their chriots with flowers and place in them clay images of Jagannath, his brother Balaram and sister Subhadra.
Vishwa Karma Puja
Vishwa Karma is the God of Creation. On the 17th. September every year the festival is celebrated by all industrial houses, artists, craftsmen, and weavers. The tools utilized during production are cleaned and all machinery are repainted. The the statue of Vishwakarma holding a hammer are erected in workshops. People are also found to be flying multi-colour kites.
The start of winter coincides with Durga Puja in October, the most important festival in Bengal. According to Hindu mythology, all gods and goddesses of thee Hindu pantheon endowed Durga with a portion of their own energy to give her strength, or shakti, to destroy the evil forces. Some 2,000 pandals are erected throughout the city. The image of Durga shows her slaying the most powerful demon, Mahisasur.
This is the season for gifts. New clothes are purchased. Shops overflow with the latest goods. People take to the streets to visit the thousands of puja pandals which spring virtually at every street corner. The puja climaxes on Mahadashami, the 10th day when the image is carried in decorated carts or trucks in festive processions to be immersed in river Hooghly.
Northern Indian communities celebrated the festival of Dussehra on that day commemorating Rama's victory over the devil Ravana, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. At sunset, huge effigies of Ravana, his son and his brother are burned on the maidan.
In the month of October, five days after Mahadashami, on full moon, is the festivals of the Goddess of prosperity Laxmi who is worshipped daily in most Hindu household for the family's well-being. Public Pujas are performed in the same premises as for Durga Puja.
After nineteen days of the completion of the Durga Puja, the city get geared up to celebrate another popular festival, the Kali Puja. Kali is worshipped as the Mother Goddess who protects from evil. The image of Kali is bit frightening and usually shows her with a severed head in one hand, her sword known as Kharga in the other. She is seen standing on her foot on Lord Shiva's chest and wearing a garland of skulls. The puja actually takes place at midnight on the day of the new moon. During the Kali Puja all houses are lit up with candles decorated around the house. During this puja, children and adults are seen to burst firecrackers and lighting multicouloured sprinkling crackers. No one seems to sleeps on that night.
Kali Puja coincides with Diwali, the North Indian New Year, the festivals of lights.
Christmas is not only celebrated by the Christian community but even other people and communities of Kolkata as well. The famous Park Street is highly illuminated and Flurry bake specials cakes which is sold in no time. Christmas falling during winter which is a very pleasant time of Kolkata, people are seen taking time off to hold picnics. There are parties in clubs and hotels. The best masses are at St. Paul's Cathedral, candle lit on this occasion, at St. Andrew's Kirk.
The Muslim Festivals
Muslim festivals are celebrated with intensity in West Bengal. During Bakrid, marking the end of Ramazan and Id-Ul-Fitr in celebration of the hajis, the pilgrims to the Holy Mecca, the northern part of the Maidan becomes the prayer grounds for Muslims who gather around the Saheed Minar while the muezzin leads the sessions from the top the monument.
The Shiite processions along Chitpore Road and, in Metiaburuz, Kidderpore, Razabazar, Narkeldanga, Beliaghata and Manicktola are really a spectacle to be seen. These procession are led by a white horse, the Hussain's mount. Immediately following are the tazias, preciously handicrafted replicas of Hussain's grave. The flagellants pound their chests singing "Hassan, ya Hussain" and use muti-tailed whip attached with razor flagellate themselves.
Jalpesh Mela (District Jalpaiguri)
On the occasion of Sivaratri (February – March), a month-long fair is held at Jalpesh near Mainaguri in the district of Jalpaiguri. The fair centres round the age-old Siva temple dedicated to Lord Jalpeswara.
Bera Utsav (District Murshidabad)
Every year on the last Thursday of the Bengali month of Bhadra mid-September, Bera Utsav is held at Lalbagh on the river Bhagirathi near the palace of the Nawabs. Fireworks of various size and colour add to the gaiety of the festival.
Jagaddhatri Puja (District Hooghly)
Goddess Jagaddhatri is worshipped in the Bengali month of Kartick (November). At Chandannagar near Kolkata images of the goddess are tall, pandals spectacular and the illumination unique. In fact, the illumination part is the most attractive feature here.
Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival (Inter-State)
Held in a series at Darjeeling, the Dooars and in Sikkim, the Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival is celebrated with a view to promote tourism in this region as a composite tourist destination, with its bounties in tea, timber and tourism. The festival is held every year in November – December.
Vishnupur Festival (District Bankura)
In the temple town of Vishnupur a festival is organised every year between 27 and 31 December. Characterised by exhibition and sale of local handicrafts and performance of the rich musical tradition that Vishnupur boasts, this is an immensely popular festival.