Purbasha Roy held her 9-year-old daughter’s hand and pointed toward the towering art installation: blooming pink buds symbolizing embryos, menstrual cups shaped to form a bouquet, fallopian tubes descending from corners of the ceiling.

The work, part of a makeshift pavilion to worship the Hindu goddess Durga, was designed to break taboos in India about menstruation. And it had a clear target: A half-man, half-bull demon at Durga’s feet, an organizer explained to Ms. Roy and others, represented the “moral police” — India’s patriarchal society.

The pavilion was one of hundreds, many politically pointed, that dotted Kolkata during a five-day festival called the Durga Puja, an event that brings this muggy, sleepy city alive each year as if jolted by a high-voltage current. Part Mardi Gras, part Christmas, the festival, which ended on Tuesday, is the most important religious celebration for Hindus in this part of eastern India.

From the dense warrens of old Kolkata to the city’s parks and apartment compounds, the makeshift pavilions, many of them wildly elaborate and colorful, feature handmade idols of the three-eyed goddess Durga, her 10 arms splayed out. The goddess, clutching a spear and a club, embodies both martial prowess and gentle motherliness — the victory of good over evil.


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