Kolkata Soundscapes

Festival/Carnival Sounds

Kolkata, the city of Joy, is also a city of a plethora of sounds – the honking of cars, jingle-jangle of the hand-pulled rickshaws, the din of the peddlers, the clinking sounds of the busy boots on the pavement, the chiming of the tram bell, the sonorous sound of the daily azan, of engines roaring, of mobile phones ringing and many others. Sounds that define Kolkata, sounds that every Kolkatan is so accustomed to that almost always it escapes of our attention. However, each and every sound is a marker of a particular space, time and culture.  Kolkata is no different, while the evenings in the quiet backstreets of North Kolkata resonates with the sound of adda signifying an unhurried modus vivendi; evenings in South Kolkata are abuzz with the sounds of a metropolitan city. Nonetheless, there are times when the entire city is unified into a single concordant sound – the times of festivals.


Durga Puja festivities in the city

Festivals are a celebration of life and sound forms an integral part of this celebration. Perhaps this is the reason why Kaliprasanna Sinha while drawing a sketch of nineteenth-century ‘Calcutta’ consciously starts his book Hootum Pyachar naksha, by describing the sound of the drumbeat that echoed throughout the city of Kolkata during festivals – Kolikata shohorer char dik ei dhaker bajna shone jacche. Drumbeats can still be heard during Durga Pujo, perhaps the biggest festival in Kolkata but much has changed as far as carnival sound is concerned since Sinha’s times. The achavo and the bombachak of the shongs, khyamtas, ‘half-akhrai’ and tappas of the dohars have given way to the blaring loudspeakers churning out (mainly) Bollywood and Tollywood numbers. The responsibility of sponsorship has been revised, from the erstwhile babus, it is now transferred to big companies whose names can be heard being announced repeatedly along with the songs.  While the sound from the loudspeaker fills the air the streets of the city are filled with the happy voices and laughter of people on the one hand and the sound of the sacred mantras, conch shells (shankha), bells (ghanta) and gong (kasha)-sounds without which any ritual is incomplete-on the other.  

Other sounds like that of  the congregational prayer during  Eid, of Christmas carols, of Janmasthami kirtans, the colourful sound of Holi, the sound of firecrackers during Diwali/Kali Puja, the sound of Lakshmi Puja, Rakhi, Navratri all of which are celebrated with equal enthusiasm, reverberates throughout the city at different times of the year. Perhaps here mention needs to be made of Vak Devi, the goddesses of sound according to Hindu Mythology who is worshipped in the city and elsewhere in the form of Goddess Saraswati.

The following is an archive of a few of the festival sounds, mainly taken during the immersion procession (bhashan), Durga Puja and the other mentioned festivals which would help us understand and situate the city within a specific framework. 


Recording (0126): Beatings on the Dhaak, a traditional instrument performed during most Hindu festivals in Bengal. 

Date of Recording: 21 October 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (0127): Sounds of firecrackers and bombs bursting in the night sky during Kali Puja festivities along with a loudspeaker blaring in the background. 

Date of Recording: 9 November 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)

Recording (00128): Independence Day celebrations on Red Road.

Date of Recording: 15 August 2013; Format: MP3 (192kbps) – Original: WAV (44.1khz, 16 bit audio)