You have to be a Bengali to understand the real essence of Durga Puja, said none. If you have an element like me as a flatmate, roommate, fellow hosteller, classmate, a colleague, or as a friend, which I am sure you must have had, you are bound to know how crazy we people get during Durga Puja and how much we can brag about how grand the Puja in my para (colony) is. And mind you, it’s not just about Durga Puja in Kolkata; the entirety of West Bengal is smeared in festivity during this season.
I am a Bengali, born and brought up in Sikkim. As a kid, for me the ten day school holiday during this season comprised of mainly four F’s- Fun, Frolic, Food and Festivity and none of it was in Kolkata, but in a small town called Jalpaiguri in Northern part of Bengal. Durga Puja is definitely a symbol of good conquering evil but for us Durga Puja is also when Maa Durga comes to her maternal home with her complete entourage of her children Karthik, Ganesha, Saarswati and Lakshmi.
Mahalaya is the very beginning of the ten day celebration. Unlike other parts of Bengal the actual celebration in Jalpaiguri starts from the sixth day or Shasti and continues up to Dashami or the tenth day. Mahalaya to Panchami (fifth day) mostly comprises of last minute shopping and as a kid, I would start counting days carefully crossing each day on the calendar as we neared Puja.
Mahalaya mornings meant waking up to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s enigmatic rendition of the Mahisasura Mardini and I am sure this is something every Bong kid would identify with. It’s a ritual and living away from Bengal, this broadcast was a dash of everything so close to our hearts.
Durga Puja also equates to shopping and loads of shopping and a never ending affair with shopping. All Bong kids no matter how old they get, do not refrain from asking this one question to everyone they meet during this time, and that is “Koyta jama hoeche?” meaning “How many sets of new clothes have you managed to collect?” Yes, for every day of celebration we need two different pairs of new clothes, one for the morning and one for the evening, received from parents, paternal and maternal uncle, aunts, cousins/brothers/sisters who earned and grandparents. The bigger the count the better you felt about yourself.
Festivity calls for grand feasts and that means Ilish Machher Paturi, Kosha Mangsho and Luchi, Malai Chingri, Basanti Pulao, Biryani and some more Biryani and Moghlai Paratha with Kosha Mangsho, Luchi Chholar Daal and Rosogolla and Mishti Doi and the list is endless. Such authentic Bengali cuisine and a pack of Gelusil (to safeguard the stomach from acidity) is what we Bengalis swear by for these few days.
Puja also calls for Pandal hopping, as a kid I would sit on the shoulder of my dad and he would take me around the city for the best panoramic view of all the pandals and the magnificent idols. Ohh! What fun those days were. Jalpaiguri comes to life during these five days. The pandals are inspired from a wide range of architecture from Taj Mahal to Wat Rong Khun (White Temple, Thailand) to some very quirky designs. These pandals are an absolute specimen of art and a lot of effort, creativity and skill goes into making these. Some of them also propagate a cause they support or want the masses to be aware of such as education for all, green and eco-friendly pandals made from scrap or environment friendly elements or save the girl child et al.
Navami ( ninth day) would essentially be a very emotional day trying to look for a purpose in life as the Pujas have almost come to an end and now we have to wait for one whole year again to be able to be a part of a grand festivity. Dashami (tenth day) would bring tears to my eyes as we bid farewell to Maa Durga and request her to come back soon. However, I loved the Sindur Khela, where married women smear vermilion powder on Maa Durga’s face and on each other’s faces to celebrate their marriages and husbands. As a kid, Dashami meant taking all our books to the pandal and placing them on the feet of all the idols to gather enough blessings to pass the next examination (what all we believed in for the fear of exams!), watching my mom and all other women play Holi with Sindur, catching a glimpse of Maa Durga’s reflection in a pot filled with water kept near her feet (it’s supposed to bring good luck) and of course crying during Visarjan.
This year, I am going to celebrate Durga Puja in Jalpaiguri with my family after 6 years without having to worry about going back. All these six years were spent in Northern part of India that seemed completely oblivious of the kind of celebration that engulfs Bengal during this time of the year. The first year was a complete cultural shock for me, I mean “What do you mean by Chhutti nahi hai?”(There’s no holiday for Durga Puja) or “Pandal kaha hai?” (Where are the Pandals?). Delhi felt a little better though, with those pandals in C.R. Park but that is nothing like what we have here in Bengal so you can gauge the pain and how much I lamented at the thought of not being able to see Durga Puja back home.
Durga Puja 2016 started on the same festive note with an early morning Mahalaya’s Mahisasura Mardini broadcast, the shopping spree has been upbeat so far though I still got to buy few stuffs and the weeklong feast menu has already been decided but what I want to do differently this year is giving joy to one person who isn’t as fortunate as me. On my way to a small village on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri, I saw this small hut where a beautiful young girl lives with her family. They barely have enough tin sheets to build a shelter and call that a home. I wish to gift her new pair of clothes and shoes and probably bring some joy on her face. I wish to do this for a larger number of people once I am able to until then I will simply try to bring a smile on one person’s face at a time this festive season.
Hope you all have a lovely Durga Puja, Navratri and Dushhera and I pray that all of you are blessed with abundance of joy, health and wellbeing in life. Joy Maa Durga!