Durga Puja is the most important and biggest festival in Bengal for any Bengali Hindu. Its five days of festivity where this Puja symbolizes good winning over evil. Maa Durga is considered as daughter of Bengalis. It is believed that every year she comes to visit her father’s home (earth) for five days with her four children - Kartik, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi- representing respectively the Protector, the Initiator of the puja, Knowledge and the Provider - signifies the complete manifestation of the goddess. while her husband (lord Shiva) stays in Kailash (heaven).This five days festivity actually starts from Mahalaya with chant of Roopam dehi, dhanam dehi, yasho dehi (give me beauty, give me wealth, give me fame…)across Bengal. The festive mood builds up with rhythm of Dhakis (drummers)
Her visits happened to be the best time for Bengali farmers. Weather is at best as the monsoon is just over and it is not yet winter. As there is no need for major work in the paddy fields everyone can be part of this religious ceremony. Rice grows with the blue sky and little white clouds. Well, now a days this weather and farmer scenario does not have any true meaning for most of city dwellers. As it is either too hot which can be called as “October Summer” or raining heavily from late arrival of monsoon.
Now a days it’s more of commercialization. Pre-Puja bargain sales and exhibitions introduce the sartorial style for the coming year. Bengali newspapers and magazines publish special issues- platform for many budding author, besides the works by well-known writers. Music companies have a number of new discs and cassettes published in every Puja. Not only that trains to tourists spots get reserved months before puja. Bengalis in other cities in India visit their relatives in West Bengal. Even due to commercialisations decorations are very classy. There is big competition between associations who makes the best idol, best pandal decorations etc.
I remember going to Durga Puja on Weekends at San Francisco as every one is too busy with work during the week. So, Puja is held in weekend for every one’s convineance. And to add a pinch of salt – it is held in two different weekends so that people can attend both the Puja celebration. While at Paris it was different as Puja is organized as per (tithi) date which sometimes made it difficult to attend.
The joke runs that if a couple of Bengalis get together, there will be surely three Durga Pujas! Well, Bombay goes way past that quorum. More then 22 Durga Pujas are held across the city. And here Bengalis celebrate their favourite puja with same zeal as that of their counterparts in Calcutta.
Being at Bombay, this year it was different after a long time as we celebrated it with my maternal uncle’s family. There was one local Puja next to our residence. We went at noon to offer (pushpanjali) obeisance. And once the offering to Goddess is over there is Prasad and bhog distribution - khichudi (mixed dish of rice and (dal) lentils which is served normally very hot (temperature) along with (baigun bhaja) aubergine fry, (labra) mixed vegetable, chutney and (payesh) rice caramel. There is a common ritual for Hindus offering and praying to God or Goddess in empty stomach. This created a bit of problem as hundreds of hungry people stands in queue to get prasad & bhog.
In the evening, normally there are cultural activities. Bengalis are known for their eating habits especially snacks and sweets. Lots of food stalls are set up near the pandal. Families will have their “Pet - Pujo” (Stomach – Worship) so that their wife gets a day off from kitchen. I am sure this sort of events unfold every corner of the world as Bengali celebrates Durga Puja. Not only this but also people start thronging pandal after pandal. Road blocks are quite common. Children getting lost are natural. Every bengali in their new dress, new shoes are quite commonly seen. As Durgotsav comes once a year – everyone wants it to make it as memorable as possible.
The special thing for this year was we enrolled ourself for visiting other Puja pandal in and around Bombay. The plan was there will be rented bus to take us to various corners of Bombay that way no need to drive and no hassles of parking. And you can take a nap in between if you can. Although trip was supposed to start at 10:30 PM and end by early morning next day. But we started around midnight IST (Indian Stretchable time) unfortunately that night it was raining heavily. By the time we reached Shivaji Park we found it resembles a paddy field with more then ankle deep water. But, we continued with umbrella and socked shoes and sandals till next morning.
Bengalis are quite (un)famous with their obsession for caffeine and nicotine; each stop was delayed by few members for their tea & cigarette break. Thank-God all the food-stalls were closed due to rain and late night other wise we had to wait longer.
With all these complaints it was a memorable night; hopefully we will not repeat it again next year as it was fun for once. Surely we were trashed next day and had lots of sleep to catch up.