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Durga Pujo

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It is as inevitable as the tradition that inspires it – feeling pangs of nostalgia while Kolkata1 gears up to welcome Maa Durga and her four children – Karthik, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati, worship and revel in her homecoming for the next four days.

Time to let off a small, silent sigh and think of the amazing energy, the electric (quite literarily) atmosphere, and most of all, the fun everyone is having back home during Durga Pujo, while I am several thousands of  ‘saat-samudra-tero-nadip-pare’ miles away – waiting to transfect cells, run agarose-gels, attend technical seminars and other such exciting (not!) stuff. Time for the Inbox to be flooded with pictures of eclectic pandals and protima designs and the Shubo Bijoya messages in a few days…….

For the record, this is my eighth year missing a Kolkata Durga Pujo.

And this GreatBong post, ostensibly about suppressing the nostalgia, did not do much than to set-off an avalanche of emotions. GB writes:

Whenever I am away from Kolkata, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo……..

Which is why I refuse to do Protima Dorshon online (i.e. surf websites with pictures of pandals and images on them), do not appreciate being wished “Subho Mahalaya” and stay away from Probasi Pujos—–by blotting them out, I try to convince myself that Pujo does not exist and this illusion helps me to get over these few days. After all, as Durkheim demonstrated in Suicide, you feel miserable when everyone else is having fun, and you are not.

Mahalaya just passed us by. No I did not try to rake up an Mp3 of Birendra Krishna Bhodro’s endearing recitation of Mahisasura Mardini, a tour-de-force of raw, tremulous emotion where the interlocutor is reduced to tears at the end . Actually the only time I like to hear Mahisasura Mardini is during Mahalaya dawn, half-asleep, at home in Kolkata, awash with the the beautifully serene tunes of Pankaj Mallick, my own heart beating in anticipation of Pujo to come.

Admirable emotions and I agree with Mahishashur Mardini losing much of its endearing qualities when heard out of its regular space-time context. Yes, I would like to shut out Pujo as much as possible too – but when NPR’s Morning Edition (my radio indulgence during the morning commute) starts covering it, there is really no place to hide. So for today, just today, I am letting myself go – releasing some of the pent-up sentiments – all the sappy, seven colors of the rainbow memories…….

At different stages of my life, Durga Pujo has meant slightly different things. As a very young kid – it was mostly being amazed by the mythological stories of the creation of Maa Durga by the Devtas in heaven – the sum-total of divine powers to combat the evil of the Ashuras. It was about being awe-struck by the grandeur and the innovativeness of the pandals,  the protimas and the animated (to some extent, kitschy) electrical lightings  depicting current affairs or mythological stories. It was about making notes on how different Durgas were carrying different weapons and the relative fierceness of the different Ashuras. It was about nagging on any senior person in the household to take me to the local fair for another ride on the Merry-go-around (a hand driven carousel). It was also about getting new clothes (this was somewhat forced on me – later in my life, I convinced most relatives to give me cash in lieu of the clothes – cash that I used up to buy new books!).

Teenaged adolescent years Pujo had more to do with friends – be it pandal-hopping (mostly South Kolkata – Maddox Square, Ekdalia Evergree and such – but also some forays to famous North Kolkata Pujos such as College Square and Md Ali Park), a very different kind of err…..Protima-darshan (if you catch my drift), simply hanging out at the local Pujo, trying to impress the girls with your balloon shooting abilities (such innocence) at Pujo fairs at Triangular and Deshapriya Park………

But throughout my 20-odd years of stay in Kolkata, certain aspects of the Pujo always remained the same – listening to  the radio on Mahalaya morning and triggering anticipation for the enjoyment to come in a week; the  sound of the dhaak (drums) from very early morning on Shoshthi (that’s really the quintessential memory of the event); the pushpanjali on Saptami morning2; the dhunchi-naanch during the evening aarti; my dad, not being the most adventurous of spirits, taking us to see some of the more prominent Pujo pandals by car on Panchami day (since there would be less traffic on that day!), his trips on Nabami morning to Haji-shaheb’s meat shop in Park Circus for pantha (goat meat) and the wafting smell of goat-curry being prepared by Mom later in the day; the wistfulness of Dashami morning knowing that the funs has temporarily ended, the sadness somewhat alleviated by the abundance of sweets in the house that day.

Unfortunately the Probashi (NRI) Pujo in the US, with its condensed and accelerated weekend version, is a very different kind of experience. It is still a social occasion – but almost unbearably so. I attended a few when I first came to the US – even participated in a couple of plays for the cultural program that happens in the evening and volunteered for food distribution and stuff – but soon grew disillusioned with the whole thing. There was too much petty internal politics among various members of the Bengali community – factions, favoritism and what not (we Bongs just cannot leave out politics aside); too much showing off perceived social status (in a country where the middle class is largely homogenous) – such and such bought an new house, so and so bought a really expensive Saree from Dhakeshwari Bastralaya with matching PC Chandra jewelry (of course this was a show-and-tell) during their last trip ; a disturbing trend of trying to one-up each other by gloating about kid’s academic achievements – particularly which Ivy League college the kid got admission to; and most irritatingly, reluctant children forced to recite/sing/dance stuff that are really alien to them.

Thus I have gradually drifted away from the festivities and like GreatBong, largely try to blot out the occasion.

So till I start reminiscing next year……

UPDATE: Audio feed is now available for the NPR Morning Edition report on Durga Pujo. It is by Sandip Roy, a Bengali living in the Bay Area, so is not just a cut-and-dry narration – he puts a lot of feeling into the report. Certainly worth a listen.


1: Yes I know many people argue that Durga Pujas in other parts of India, especially at CR Park in Delhi, are equally enjoyable – but what can I say: I am a Kolkatan at heart and very parochial about this one festival. Pujos outside Kolkata just don’t cut it.

2: I am really an agnostic, but I used to do the Anjali for the sake of my grandmother – she would insist and I did not have the heart to disappoint her.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

September 27, 2006 at 8:10 am

Posted in India, Kolkata, Life, Personal

10 Responses

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  1. Beautiful post. Sepia tinged and dripping with nostalgia. Most of which are an integral part of my growing years too. which makes it so easy to relate to your post.
    And I know about the wanting to block out Pujo all together for the sheer helplessness of not being able to make it there and for missing it so bad. And I also agree on the disillusionment that comes with probasi Pujos. However there is a way out. The sick part of the NRI Pujo is the org committees and everyone trying to be secretary or treasurer and the bitching and fighting and internal polotics. But what if you were not involved at all. You can go there like an outsider, for the Pujo, the anjali, the music and all that without any volunteering or active participation. I found out it works really well. I still get to dress up, pretend to be going for Pujo, get to offer anjali and listen to some band from cal, meet some friends who share similar ideas and come home without any of the backbiting and mud slinging stuff 🙂
    Have a wonderful Pujo and spread some good cheer!


    September 27, 2006 at 11:48 am

  2. […] With Durga Pujo around the corner, it is enough to make expat Bong nostalgic. BongoPondit [hat tip: Confused] and GreatBong remember the good’ol days. […]

  3. Chitaranjan park is very near where I stay but I was not aware of this at all. This must be the most comprehensive post on the Puja that I have read so far.

    The other event that I have enjoyed reading about is the calcutta book fair.


    September 28, 2006 at 1:43 am

  4. […] For the average Bengali, the cultural festivities of the Durga Puja tend to outweigh the religious significance, though the religious rituals are performed diligently. In Kolkata, the ‘baroari’ (public) pujas today are more about expressing artistic creativity and tend to follow ‘themes’. There are also awards instituted by corporate houses and hence there is an element of competitiveness induced. The outcome is that the visitors to the various ‘pandals’(venues) is awestruck by the innovative lighting, hall decor and the images of the goddess. Bongonari talks of the inimitable joy that the Bengali experiences with the coming of the Pujas and Tushon reminiscences about the spirit of nostalgia that is evoked. Of course, as Bongopondit points out, this spirit is perhaps at its strongest among the Bengalis, spending the season far away from Bengal. For them, despite there being pujas being celebrated in their countries of residence, it is perhaps just not the same as being able to celebrate it with friends and family back home. […]

  5. @M: Thank you. Unfortunately, the Durga Pujos I have been to in the US have all been within relatively small Bengali communities – so it is somewhat difficult to remain aloof. On these lines, I have noticed that politicking among Bongs does not happen so much when the community is too big or too small (less than 10-15 families) – there is a critical mass in between when all hell breaks loose. Perhaps fodder for another post !

    Anyway, like I said in the post, the pining lasts only for a day or so – hopefully, I will be in Kolkata during the Pujo sometime in the future. The experience will probably be very different now.

    @Hiren: CR Park Durga Pujos are supposed to be big events – do check them out this year. And yes the Book Fair is another wonderful nostalgic experience for us Kolkatans.


    September 28, 2006 at 7:17 am

  6. You might like these Pujo snapshots from last weekend:


    October 4, 2006 at 8:09 pm

  7. @Manish: Yeah – saw those pictures when you put them up (Ultrabrown is on my Bloglines subsciption) – was too paralyzed with nostalgic memories to leave a comment. Glad you enjoyed Kolkata.


    October 5, 2006 at 7:49 am

  8. Hi



    March 30, 2007 at 7:11 am

  9. […] local communities in charge of the Durga Pujo celebrations try to outdo each other in their pandal and lighting decorations and will channel […]

  10. went to Chicago this time for the 2.5 day affair with the goddess, my wife, rupankar and kaya and Tanushri Shankar. Was better than Chennai, Kanpur, Madison, Bay area and the probasi lot outside kolkata. Man, do I curse myself for putting myself in this situation..somethings are worse than being outside kolkata..reading about pujo and worrying your ass over not being there. It sucks..bijoya hosted by us tonight..and thats it..I am weeping.

    try me

    October 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm

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