It takes about three-and-a-half hours drive through the Bengal countryside to reach Taki. A small town bordering the Ichamati river near Hasnabad, Taki is ideal for a weekend break from Kolkata. But on Mahadashami during Durga Puja, the place draws massive crowds as idols from India and Bangladesh are taken on boats to be immersed into the river. Though this ritual has been an annual visual treat since Independence, Taki has come under the spotlight only recently.
It was raining on the last day of the festival this year as my photographer and I made our way to the little town. The lush greenery, the petrichor in the air, the rural pandals, the enticing smell wafting from sweetshops along the way–they all built up our excitement for what was to come.
On reaching Hasnabad, we were shown the way to MV Saudamini, the white and red launch which would take us to the immersion spot. The water was calm and one could guide pointed at the opposite banks and said, “That is Bangladesh.” It’s at that moment you realise how close you are to the neighbouring country–the international border actually runs through the river.
The atmosphere completely changed as the boat approached the kilometre-wide immersion stretch, the closest spot from where both Bangladeshis and Indians could see the grand event.
The scene was electric. Country boats from both sides, their respective ags waving proudly, showed off their idols across the border, which was guarded by the BSF. (Go too close to the border and they shoo you away!) The pitter patter of raindrops continued but failed to dampen the enthusiasm. Impromptu dhunuchi naach, the latest dance moves from trending movies and the beats of the dhaak added to the festive spirit as each boat circled around their side of the border seven times, each round infusing new energy into the devotees. As the boats made their rounds, the people on the banks got a glimpse of the idols before they were immersed. The incessant waving and merrymaking, throwing of sweets from passing boats as a gesture of friendship, calling out to each other in the same language–the experience was one of magic and symbolic unity across borders.
As the afternoon gave way to dusk, it was time for reworks. Fired from the boats, rockets burst into coloured balls of re that lit up the sky and evoked gasps from the audience. There was a stipulated time for the immersion but it carried on until darkness engulfed the open river. From a scene of buzzing activity, the river fell eerily silent. Flashing lights from the BSF boats guided us back and the river lapped contentedly against the boat. There was peace.