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Ruchira remembers Durga Pujo of her childhood days. She tells us about the slow and sure changes that are taking place, for various reasons, in the celebrations. Read more in the special feature, exclusively in Different Truths.

A mention of Durga Pujo, conjures up images of golden sunlit azure skies dotted with cumulous clouds,  immaculately white  Shiuli flowers,  long-stemmed sweeping kaash flowers  (related to reed/ sugarcane family) forming lacy borders near riversides, ponds, and lakes, and importantly, the warm autumn weather. However, these images are restricted to the countryside, towns, and cities of Bengal.  For Probashi (domiciled out of Bengal) Bengalis like me, these are merely icons of our Bangalianya(old Bengali traditions), which we cherish. Nonetheless, wherever we may be, we devise our own ways of celebrating this grand festival. 

I first came from the Northeast, as a five-year-old, to stay in the National Capital Region (NCR).  Delhi, during the 1970s, was a sleepy, less crowded place, the pace slow, unhurried.  For the Bengali Diaspora, puja pandals at Mandir Marg Kali Bari, Kashmiri Gate’s Raisina Bengali School, not forgetting the Mint0 Road-Mata Sundari Park combo were among the crowd pullers.  During the 80’s, the focus shifted to the nascent Chittaranjan Park (a.k.a mini Kolkata).  Over the decades, Durga Puja in Delhi-NCR has turned into a roller-coaster ride.  Community pujas mushroom, as the Bengali-dominated colonies (read ghettoes) increase in size and number. When the number of pujas in and around Delhi touched fifty, it became the talk of the town. With the influx of more Bengalis, who came here in quest of fortune, the number crossed a century. That was a few years ago. Currently, there are at least 200 of them and still counting!

Therefore, one has lots of options regarding Puja programmes. A new phenomenon, i.e   pandal hopping has emerged, though a sizeable section of the Bengali community prefers to stay home if there is a Durga puja being organised in the neighbourhood.

I can vividly recall the Durga Pujo days of my childhood and teenage. People warmed up for the four-day festivities by waking up before dawn on the day of Mahalaya, eagerly listening to a recital Mahishasurmardini being aired by All India Radio /Akashvani. This was until technology took over. Though AIR still broadcasts the audio programme, yet many prefer to listen to their private audio CDs, while others watch the audio-visual version on television channels.   Saptami (7th day) onwards, community activities begin with Pushpanjali (floral offerings) mainly before noon followed by a Prasad, which is basically a fruit salad with a sweet added to it. Interestingly, nowadays each helping of Prasad contains items like boondi, gulab jamun, barfi and less of fruits).  A couple of hours later it is time for Bhog Prasad. After the deities were symbolically served food, the consecrated food was distributed among the devotees, and public thronging the pandals.

The eatables are served on platters made of dried Sal leaves stitched together. The distinct aroma emanating from the platters owing to the hot food being served enhanced the Puja ambiance. The platters have since been replaced by Styrofoam plates. Even the Puja menu, Khichurilabra (a mishmash of vegetables) tomato chutney & payesh (rice pudding) has undergone changes, as per public taste and demand. At a pandal, a couple of years ago, I was foxed to see mattar-paneer (peas with cottage cheese) being served in place of labra! Many alien ingredients are creeping into the original chutney. And I would not be surprised if sewiyan replaces the good old payesh.

The evenings are devoted to cultural programmes, dance, music, skits, et al. After 9 pm, it is time for screening Bangla movies. Movie buffs stay up all night to devour the movies – generally a bouquet of three. Around 6 am it is time to go home. Enthusiasts from all age groups return to the pandal in the evening, ready for another round of screening! Unfortunately, with terrorism rearing its ugly head some twenty years ago, the screening of films has been scrapped. Skyrocketing costs also played a key role. 

With every passing year many changes are incorporated in the Durga Puja celebrations; owing to time and economic factors, many old practices are being discarded. But some things never change. For example, when it’s time for curtains down on the festival, no true blue Bengali (wherever he/she may) will refrain from vigorously shouting  
“ Durga maayi ki jaya

  Ashche bochhor abaar hobe”

(Glory be to the Mother Goddess; she will come back next year)

Here is wishing everyone a joyous, fun-filled Durga Puja!

©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh

Photos from the Internet

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