A complete idol of Goddess Durga in a workshop at Modon Mohon Mandir near Kumartuli.

In North India, Dussehra (on Sunday) is a celebration of Hindu god Ram and his vanquishing of demon king Ravana. The city’s Ram Lilas (large-scale street plays where performers play out scenes from the Ramayan, a Hindu epic) and Mysore’s elephant processions are impressive, but do not come close to Kolkata’s celebrations.

The city comes to a halt for the five days that constitute the climax of Durga Puja.

According to Kingshuk Chatterjee, 32, a Fulbright Scholar in residence at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, who has returned to the city after an almost year-long teaching stint, Kolkata becomes a city possessed in the five-day festival. “From top company executives to clerks in small trading companies in Dalhousie, everyone splurges their bonus," said Siddhartha Banerjea who will be officiating as a priest during the Puja.

Banerjea’s day job is as a doctor, and he plans to give away the Rs5,000 the Puja organizers will giving him for performing his part as a priest.

Before the artists arrive with their colours, an artisan applies a final coat of clay to an idol in a workshop at Modon Mohon Mandir near Kumartuli in north Kolkata.

Durga Puja is celebrated by the Bengali community in other parts of the country, too. In Delhi, much as in Kolkata, huge pandals are erected and the entire community gets together to revel in newly bought finery.

For marketers across the country, Durga Puja marks the real beginning of the festive season (Ramzan and Ganesh Chaturthi are rehearsals of sorts) that could go on till January in some states. Most companies issue bonuses in October or November, ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights.

Some facts

12,000: Approximate number of community pujas in Kolkata; 350-400 family pujas with an average budget of Rs5 lakh. The 1610 puja of Lakshmikanta Ray Majumdar, near Barisha, is the oldest.

Rs100 crore: Approximate amount spent on making pandals in Kolkata with themes such as the Akshardham temple, the Sathya Sai temple, underwater park, ice world, 150 years of Sepoy Mutiny, forts of Gaur (ancient capital of Bengal) and the face of modern Bengal.

Rs50 crore: Estimated turnover of Kolkata’s idol making industry, which employs more than 25,000 people. Unconventional idols include a robot Durga, Durga as a model, Durga made from metal (‘ashtadhatu’), Durga made of biscuits, as an Egyptian princess, a Rajasthani belle or a Manipuri dancer.

Rs30 crore: The cost of lighting up the elaborate pandals dotting every nook and corner of Kolkata. The number of people employed in this activity exceeds 3,000. The themes used in the lighting, too, are wide-ranging: from Nandigram, Singur, T20 World Cup, Rizwan’s death and Sunita Williams to 60 years of independence and the nuclear agreement with the US.

Also see the following photos:

1. Puja days mean hectic work at the Hindustan Sweets chain of shops, which sells newer varieties of sweets after plenty of research. Patronized by the elite of Kolkata, it is popular for the delicacies produced in a factory certified by ISO for its hygiene.

2. A pandal lit up for Durga Puja in New Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park.

3. Effigies of the demon-king being made for Dussehra celebrations in Dwarka, New Delhi.

4. Durga Puja celebrations at Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi.

5. Incomplete idols in a workshop at Modon Mohon Mandir near Kumartuli.

6. An artisan, who shapes the basic idol structure from straw, taking a breather in a workshop in Modon Mohon Mandir.

7. A Durga idol being carried from a Kumartuli workshop to a pandal.

8. People purchasing clothes, accessories and shoes in the Gariahaat market in Kolkata.

9. The churi (bangle) shop behind the new market.