I was inside a mall today, when suddenly a fragrance from one of the stores struck me. No, it is not a famous brand of perfume! It was the smell of new clothes, which momentarily transported me back in time, to a store in my hometown in Bengal, where I grew up. The same smell, the same feeling – sitting on a chair next to my father – it seems like yesterday! It was only few days away from the pujo. While purchasing cloth, some worrisome thoughts came to mind – will the tailors take the order for our pants and shirts? Remember, the ‘ready-made’ era has not arrived yet, in that part of the world!
For those of you are not familiar with the term Pujo – it is the Durga Puja, the 5 days of worshipping Devi Durga along with the whole family – Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartikya under the same ‘pandal’ – make-shift temples. And there is demon Mahishashur, and all the bahanas (vehicles) of all the dev-devis – lion, snake, rat, owl, swan, peacock and let us not forget the ‘kola-bou’ the wife of Ganesha in a banana plant wrapped in saree. The Durga Puja is the most awaited time of the year in Kolkata, and this is nothing new for a true-blue Bengali!
However it is equally popular in many other states in India and also in Bangladesh.
The anticipated fun days of pujo used to occupy our whole existence, for weeks. What new clothes, which new fire-crackers are coming and, more importantly – how many pratimas (murthys) are going to make an appearance this year!
The festive season could not start without the intoxicating fragrance of the siuli (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis -night-flowering Jasmine) in our backyard – carpeted under the tree and the white flowers of kash grass (Saccharumspontaneum ) dancing near the river bank, to welcome the season.
The intoxicating sounds of ‘dhak’ and ‘kansar’, the intricacies of dhunuchi (clay incense burner pot) dance – the maha-ashtami puja, the bhog (food dedicated to the Devi) – all are part of every Bengali’s memory – yes, even till today!
I just remembered the article by S. Wajid Ali – ‘sei tradition somane choliache’… the old traditions continue, which I read in my 6th grade.
Finally, the day of bisarjan (farewell and immersion of pratima) was indeed sad. The consolation was to touch the feet of the elders and get a variety of sweets, especially the narkolernaru (round sweets made from coconut and jiggery). My grandmother’s was the best and ever since she departed, my mother’s is the best! It feels awkward at times that I’m my own boss –especially after my father and eldest brother departed – the protection above your head is no more! After the final day of pujo, the Vijya Dashami, when getting the blessings from all extended family members was done via letters; there were dozens of letters – post cards, ‘inland’ letters and greetings cards. Our emails are sometimes like the readymade clothes – not ‘fitted’! During these holiday seasons, the greetings are all made for us, including the on-line photo-cards and the text of the printed cards; there is little scope for personalization! Those letters after ViajyaDashmi – to convey our regards to our elders have indeed, become history! The emergence of the Phone and Email snatched those treasures away!
Today, the pandal and pratima making has touched a new levels of great art in Bengal, especially in Kolkata. Each pandal has special theme – sometimes mimicking famous buildings such as the White House! Great amounts of money is spent, of course, mostly collected from locals, many times in the form of ‘chanda’ or coerced donations! But the pujo committee soldiers would justify, why not – how else you would visit so many pujo pandals!
That pujor bajar (shopping during pujo) has little meaning here in America, only you get a feel of it during X-Mas. But, the weekend pujo is not that bad either! It may not follow the actual tithi – but the enthusiasm of volunteers of the Bengali clubs here, make things happen. Friday is for Thakur sajano (decoration) and Saturday for pujo, anjali, prasad, lunch dinner and cultural events. Perhaps, I won’t be able to meet so many of the famous names from the Bengali art world – singers, actors and musicians, if I still lived in Bengal. I still remember meeting Sandhya Mukherjee and Satya Bandopadhyay in the back stage after their performances. Even the other day Bappi Lahiri was here with his ‘Oo-lala’ – the show was unforgettable! But, we must not forget the competition of showing off of sarees and jewelry, which is part of the fun, sometimes funny!
On Saturday, children present many cultural items. On Sunday, after the bisarjan fewer people remain in the high school gymnasium to observe the sindurkhela. Yes, sindur (vermillion) is symbolic to kalyan (all-purpose welfare) – but, then it also reflects the sadness in every heart – though with the eternal hope ‘asche bochor abar hobe’ – come again next year.
I had come to terms, during my college days, that we can do away with the fire-crackers. Apart from sound and air pollution – the animals were constantly tortured for days. Loud music blasting from roof-tops has been replaced by milder sound systems to keep the music within the pandals. But, it is so sad to know that in certain places of West Bengal, people cannot have pujo because the coward government of Bengal decided to maintain ‘communal-harmony’! If you have to ban pujo because you won’t be able to handle it, do you really deserve to rule?
In any case, the reality is that in this world peace and violence increase and decrease every day. I’m all for peaceful living, granted others are not disturbing me. If it does, we need to remember Durga, who killed the evil in the form of Mahisasur. I know my commie friends are going to bring up some debate to prove that Durga was upper class and Mahisasur was dalit etc. etc. I have heard that one of the pujo committees have decided to bring so-called ancestors of Mahisasur from Jharkhand in the pujo pandal! Wow! Bengalis are getting back the place of honour of their bygone days: ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’ by great freedom leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale!
Let this year’s Durga Pujo bring buddhi (knowledge and intelligence), suddhi (self-evaluation) and self-awareness to all, especially to Bengalis as that the world moves on, and Bengal and India need to move forward to empower the masses to rise above petty things. There lies the real significance to celebrate pujo with all the divine forms together. After all, Durga is ‘durgatinaishini’ – Devi eliminates all sufferings and challenges of the worshippers and also eradicates all evils.