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Good Holi Ramadan

The stars are aligned this week.
Its a week for Holi, Ramadan and Good Friday.
In Kolkata the Ramadan night market is bustling near the brick red Nakhoda Masjid


The narrow streets are chock-a-block with stalls selling. Clothes, brightly coloured bangles, veils and t-shirts, and attar perfumes and more


The streets are jam-packed with strolling shoppers, honking bikes, and beggars, some blind, some lame hoping for some festive charity.


As the day’s fast ends, people lay out trays of dates and cut fruits and deep fried slices of vegetable for Iftar tor people to break their fast.
Vendors sell glasses of bright ruby red rooh afza drinks and freshly blended mango juice


People jostle against each other, laughing, shopping, bargaining and eating. And there’s plenty to eat.

But the real draw for many is the food. Ramadan food walks led by food bloggers have become a hot ticket item in Kolkata these days. Entire fish hang on hooks in front of stores, marinaded in red masala, ready to be fried. Skeweres of spicy Changezi chicken that will be deep friend right before you. There’s a long line around a hole in the wall shop where beef kebabs are grilling over hot coals, the smell drawing scores of hungry visitors. Beef brain, beef udders, beef mince everything is available. The star might be haleem, the heavy stew of lentils, barley and meat, all blended into thick delicious porridge, topped with a squeeze of lemon, some cilantro and an extra dollop of red oil. And rows and of bakers selling great round disks of freshly baked sheermal and bakarkhani bread, some studded with sesame seeds.


But this is of course really about faith not food, as Muslims observe a month of fasting.

ANd the sounds of prayers echoing out of the mosque all over the neighborhood remind us of this


The Nakhoda Masjid in the heart of Kolkata, is the largest mosque in eastern India. 10,000 can worship in its prayer hall. this is the Muslim heart of the city but at this time the area is filled not just with Muslims but hundreds of people of other faith drawn by the crowds, the colour and of course the street food.

Within blocks of this hubbub I stumble upon a different scene entirely a group of men and women are gathered at a street corner. They have heaped wooden sticks, branches, dried leaves and scrap into a pile and set fire to it. The flames hiss and sizzle, flickering orange against the backdrop of the old buildings while musicians beat drums and cymbals. And a few people walk around the bonfire chanting Holi Hai.


It’s Holi, the spring festival of the Hindus. In the morning the city will burst with colour as people smear colour on each other and have riotous Holi parties with Holi songs and cannabis laced drinks


Even the street dogs will look a little pink and green for a few days.

But the night before Holi under an almost full moon, people gather to light these bonfires all over the city.


Burning Holika dates back to an ancient mythological story. Holika the sister of a demon king once tried to burn her nephew, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, by sitting with him on her lap on a pyre. But Lord Vishnu protected his devotee, and it was Holika who burned instead.

In Bengal we call this festival Dol Jatra. Rather than the story of Holika and her nephew, this celebrates the divine lovers Radha and Krishna, where Krishna flung colour at Radha and her friends to show his love for her and the duo played on a swing on a full moon night.


We call the bonfire nyara porano and the ashes from the bonfire are supposed to protect you from diseases. Many see the bonfire simply as a way to symbolise the official end of winter.

As the week ends the city’s christians will gather to mark Good Friday. But as is true in Kolkata Easter does not belong to just christians. Thousands of hindus and muslims will go and pick up their easter eggs.

But whatever the stories behind the rituals the aims remain the same whether in the Ramadan night market or around the Holika bonfire or the cafe selling hot cross buns

That in the end we seek to find solace in each other as a community. And that need knows no religion.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW