The Durga Puja (or rather Durga Pujo) is one of the most revered and glittering annual festival celebrated in the North-Eastern part of the country, especially among the people of West Bengal. The week-long festivity brings with it a sundry of delicious dishes, pandal hopping, catching up with friends and relatives and last but not the least worshipping of the majestic Goddess Durga, the nemesis of Mahishashur.
I have spent most of my early days in Ludhiana. Since my parents were both Bengalis, I was brought up on the staple diet of bhat(rice) and macher jhol(fish curry). Fortunately, I have grown up in the very epicentre of traditional Bengali festivals and as a result like all Bengalis. I, too, harbour a special place in my heart for the Durga Puja. There are a lot of other Bengali families residing in that part of the country. We have a Samsad under whose purview this Durga Puja is organized with great pomp and show. The Samsad serves as the communion of all the families and as a result it provided a means for all the Bengalis to celebrate their own Durga Puja in their own way.
The preparation for this auspicious occasion would start with earnest a month in advance. The organizing committee would be busy in making arrangements for the decoration of the idol and setting up a proper pandal for the celebrations. The rehearsals for the cultural functions that dominate the evenings of maha saptami, maha ashtami and maha nabami would begin in full swing. The children are the cornerstones of these melodious evenings with a lot of emphasis given to bring out the creative spark in them. I have a fond memory of those rehearsals since I used to look forward to them more than the Puja itself.
The rehearsals used to be conducted on our sprawling verandah and I used to feel delighted at the prospect of meeting my friends on a regular basis. My mother was a strict disciplinarian and would not tolerate any kind of tantrums from us. She was a nature lover and was extremely attached to her little green shoots occupying the innumerable earthen pots surrounding the periphery and the backyard of our house. We used to play cricket inside my house as the long stretch of verandah provided the ideal settings with its cemented floor as the 22 yard pitch and the distemper walls as the faithful fielder to our exuberant and fiery shots. On one such occasion, we found ourselves at the receiving end of my mother’s fury as her favourite pot of white lilies was shattered to pieces by a splendid cover drive from one of my friends. We cajoled her in our sugary talks and finally decided to purchase a similar earthen pot through our pocket money. It’s a matter of different fact that the lilies were replaced by chrysanthemum since the nursery was short of the desired variety at that time.
The traditional songs and dance would dominate the major part of our rehearsals. As students of English medium schools and being not so well versed in the nuances of traditional Bengali culture, we used to mock and jibe at the intricacies of those song and dance sequences and soon a huge ruckus would befall on entire surroundings as our antics and frivolities would fail to subside. The grown-ups would take a lot of pain and hardship in making us accustomed to the heritage of the culture and its significance. The nonchalant attitude that used to occupy the initial stages of preparation would turn into serious business as everyone would gear up in their own way to show the best of his/her abilities on D-Day. A kind of competitive spirit used to get invigorated among the various kakima and jethima(aunts) to bring out the best in their pupils. Everyone would wait keenly for the commencement of the Durga Puja to stamp her authority over the other through the performances of her pupils.
Ma Durga was conceived through the powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva for saving the mankind from the atrocities of Mahishashur. Mahishashur was the title given to the asur as he was the supreme among all the asuras. He pleased Brahma through his tapasya and in turn asked for power of invincibility against any man or God in this entire universe. Brahma acceded to his request and granted him the vardan. He could not be defeated on earth, heaven and netherworlds by any man or God. This power soon made him arrogant and atrocious. People prayed to God to save them from the mayhem of Mahishashur. Ma Durga, the devi shakti signified the end of the reign of Mahishashur - A triumph of good over evil. The coming of age of the women as portrayed though the gallantry and valour of Ma Durga also bears testimony to the open minded culture of the Bengalis. Gender bias is a rarity in this community with a lot of emphasis given to the emancipation of the women folk.
This year as I pay obeisance to Ma Durga, a kind of nostalgic wind carries me to the days of yore through the sounds of Dhaki(the ritual drummer) which continue to reverberate but I miss those familiar faces in the pandal. Time would fly in the pandal with everyone joining in the jocundity of our irrational banter. The smell of the incense sticks in the mandap continues to fill my heart with delight and yet the pranks of our mischievous gang seem to evaporate in the milieu of the hustle and bustle of the ever changing and ever growing city. A new generation of Bengalis has replaced the older generation but nonetheless the roots are still intact as the mother tree continues to ramify and sways in the euphoria of this splendid festive spirit.