Cuttack: Artisans are burning the midnight oil to give final touches to the idols, labourers are running against time to complete the marquees and organisers are pulling out all stops to embrace the good old days of the pre-pandemic fête. A fortnight from now, the streets of this city will be bustling with people of all ages and communities from across Odisha to soak in the festive spirit of Durga Puja, the mega festival that is being conducted for over 500 years here.
Preparations are in full swing as organisers are upbeat about conducting a grand celebration this time. The past two years were marred with restrictions on public participation and idol heights due to the coronavirus pandemic. The festival in Cuttack transcends barriers of religions with participation from all communities.
“From Hindus to Muslims, everyone celebrates the festival together as it is a city of brotherhood,” Cuttack Mahanagar Santi Committee general secretary Bhikari Das said.
Though Durga Puja is celebrated across Odisha, the one in Cuttack is the most famous for the stunning filigree work and the ‘chandi medha’ or the silver tableau.
The use of the delicate and intricate silver filigree work in decorations is the specialty of Cuttack, which is known as the silver city due to the ancient handicraft of ‘tarakasi’.
The first community worship of Goddess Durga in Cuttack is said to have started sometime in the 15th-century during the reign of the Gajapati dynasty ruler Prataparudra Deva. Vaishnav saint Chaitanya Deb, who came from Bengal, started it on the Kathajodi river bank. The area is now known as Balu Bazaar.
The city, whose name literally means a fort, developed more than 1,000 years ago around Barabati fort.
The five-day ‘sarbajanina’ (community) festival starts on the evening of Sashthi or the sixth day after Mahalaya and continues till Dashami.
“People tour many ‘mandapa’ (marquees) all through the night,” said Debendranath Sahoo, president of the Cuttack Mahanagar Santi Committee, which represents 175 puja committees in the city.
The festival is celebrated in a big way at the Kataka Chandi temple, one of the ancient temples in the state located near the Mahanadi river bank. It is dedicated to Goddess Chandi, the presiding deity of Cuttack.
Every year, people throng the Sheikh Bazaar Puja, which is conducted near the temple, in droves. The Sur family, which has its origin in Bengal, started the puja in 1902 along with the residents of the area. It follows Bengali traditions, Sheikh Bazaar Puja Committee secretary Kishore Behera said.
“We changed the design of the ‘medha’ (tableau) this year and added over 60 kg of additional silver to the background with the already-existing 2.5 quintals. The jewellery of the idols will be around 40-50 kg,” Behera said. He highlighted that their puja is a symbol of communal harmony as members of every community take part in the festivities. “Our committee has Muslims and Christians also,” informed Kishore.
The height of the idol is 6.5 feet as the restrictions on it, which became a major bone of contention for the past two years, have now been lifted. Since 2005, all the five idols have worn golden crowns, Behera said.
“We used to organise musical functions, but it has stopped for the past few years. We’ve started bhajans now,” he said, adding that the budget is around Rs 25-30 lakh this year.
Satyajit Muduli, a resident of Cuttack district, is delighted he will be able to see the goddess after two years since there will be no restrictions. “We’ll be able to fully enjoy this year, visit many ‘mandapa’, have good food and watch ‘melody’ (musical shows),” he said.