Kolkata: Durga Puja rituals began in West Bengal on Monday as enthusiastic devotees plunged into merriment marking the first day of the biggest festival in this part of the world.
"Sasthi" or "Bodhan" -- the welcoming of the Durga idols -- signalled the commencement of the five-day puja as the eastern metropolis welcomed its patron goddess to beats of "dhaak" (drums) and aroma of incense.
Armed with mobile apps, special arrangement by the West Bengal Transport Development Corporation for "puja parikrama" (pandal hopping), printed guide maps and selfie-sticks, denizens and tourists -- cutting across age and class barriers -- hit the streets here and in towns across districts, making rounds of different marquees under tight security arrangements.
Cyclone Titli timed its departure perfectly with the beginning of the "Sharod Utsav" (autumnal festivities), and there is no forecast of rain.
People decked in their best walked the streets of Kolkata shoulder to shoulder, visiting one marquee after another, as the Durga Puja festivities got off to a gala start under clear skies in eastern metropolis.
At the popular Maddox Square puja marked for its expansive space conducive to "adda" (discussion sessions) debates and deliberations were in full swing amid the throbbing beats of the dhaaks.
People's movement was, however, affected for 15-odd minutes in the afternoon due to power cut in a rake of the Metro Railway services in the city. After power tripping in the rake, passengers were de-boarded from Dum Dum-bound train at Central station and the empty rake was taken to the carshed, following which normal services were resumed.
The streets are decorated with lights, colourful billboards and giant entry gates of different community pujas. Shops -- big or small -- look busy and the restaurants welcome the gastronomes with mouth-watering dishes, including special Bengali platters.
The carnival-like atmosphere could be felt since morning, with many prominent pujas organisers throwing their marquees open to the public in advance from "Mahalaya" day -- the beginning of Devi Paksha.
Along with the greetings of "Shubho Sharadiya" via social media and messengers as also the traditional "namaskara", the chants of "Jai Durga" and "Bolo Durga Mai Ki Jai" reverberated across the state with every city, small town and village joining the fervour.
The puja is usually a five-day event with Sasthi, and the subsequent four days -- Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami -- translating into frenzied pandal-hopping (visiting marquees) in new clothes, meeting friends and family and stuffing oneself with traditional delicacies.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wished people on Sasthi via a social media message.
Sasthi -- the sixth day of the lunar calendar -- began in some community pujas on Sunday evening according to "tithi" (a date in Hindu calendar).
"Kalparamvo" (the beginning of the puja), "Bodhan" (the consecration of Ma Durga's idol), "Amantran" (inviting the Goddess) and "Adhivas" (sanctifying the stay of the Goddess at the exact spot where the puja is being held) were performed in community puja marquees and households where the deity is being worshipped with zeal.
According to the epic Ramayana, before attacking Ravana in Lanka to free his wife Sita, Lord Rama had performed Durga Puja in autumn -- a time when the gods sleep, according to the Hindu religious texts.
Rama had to first awaken the goddess prematurely, and as such, the awakening in the autumnal festival is called "Akal (untimely) Bodhan".
However, mythology also states that the puja celebrates the annual descent of Goddess Durga, the slayer of the demon Mahishasura, accompanied by her four children -- Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati -- on the Earth to visit her parents.
The goddess, astride a lion and wielding an array of weapons in her 10 hands, stays for four days to eradicate all evil from the Earth before returning to her husband Lord Shiva in Kailash on "Dashami" day.