Shubho Mahalaya

Every year we celebrate Ma Durga’s homecoming. Every year Ma Durga comes home with her sons Ganesh and Kartik and daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. Like most of us, Ma Durga’s children also love their Mamar Bari. No celebration is complete without friends and relatives. Durga puja is a celebration of togetherness. Durga puja symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It renews the sense of building and demolishes the spirit of destruction present in all of us. It is our annual self-cleansing ceremony. It is also the festival of conquering the self.

Bengalis are addabaaj, love good food, love to travel, love football, and above all love Durga puja. A friend casually remarked, “I have spent most of my life out of Bengal. I don’t know much about Bengal and Bengalis. I am not a Bengali.” My friend, I am afraid, ‘Out of Bengal’ doesn’t mean that you are not a Bengali. Once a Bengali, always a Bengali. A Bengali does not forfeit the right of being called a Bengali if she/he has not lived in Bengal. Geography and distance can’t take away the Bengaliness of a Bengali. Bengalis, in any corner of the world they might live, would not like to lose their Bangaliyana. They will make sure that they have a Kali Bari, Durga Puja, library wherever they live. Their Bangla might have rusted and might have many Avadhi or Rajasthani or Tamil or Telugu or English or German or French vocabulary, but they will not let go of an opportunity to speak in Bangla, accented or otherwise.

Durga puja, the queen of festivals, has brought in a promise of hope since the time Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Sovabazar started it in 1757. Raja Nabakrishna organized the puja because Lord Clive wished to convey thanks to the people for his victory in the Battle of Plassey. He wanted to do it in a Church, but could not; the only Church in Kolkata at that time had already been destroyed by Nawab Sirajuddaulah. Soon many Zamindars and wealthy people followed suit. They took pride in calling Durga Puja their puja. They vied with one other in arranging the most sumptuous Bhog, in decorating Pandals, and in arranging music-dance-drama. Money for a particular puja came from a particular source. Soon the demand for puja increased and one kitty was not enough. Thus began Sarbojanin Baroari Durga Puja. The present-day Durga puja is a multi-sponsored puja with big budget.

Neighbourhood pujas are now theme parks, museums, and exhibitions. There is much pride attached to the capability of drawing big crowds. Rather than the piety, spectacle and amusement move the crowds. Street corners and parks are suddenly transformed into famous historical or archaeological sites. The mass viewing of the Durga idols in the specially constructed pandals in each neighbourhood is one of the attractions of Durga Puja. Who knows it better than Bengalis that feasting is an essential part of any joyful celebration.

Every organizer invents its innovative way to celebrate the puja. For the organizers the next Durga puja starts the day the previous year’s Durga puja ends, but for most of us, the excitement of Durga Puja starts the day Birendra Krishna Bhadra in his booming voice announces the arrival of Ma Durga on the All India Radio on the Mahalaya day. On that day perennial late risers, for a change, lovingly change their routine. During the four Puja days, one doesn’t mind showing off a bit. One should not be surprised to see our sister, sisters-in-law, mother, aunt, grandmother, father, mother, uncles, grandfathers becoming artists, though temporarily. You did not know that they can act or sing, but here they are acting and singing on the stage, and that too pretty well. The whole atmosphere is so infectious. In the next Durga Puja you shouldn’t be surprised to find some new crop of impromptu actors/singers. Durga Puja provides a platform to everyone, good or not so good, to participate in the festivities.

Durga Puja was and shall always be a major social event for Bengalis. This socio-religious extravaganza is the perfect example of blending real with the impossibly unreal, and where several incompatible elements co-exist. The huge variety of cultural productions associated with the Durga Puja gives us a chance to review “traditional disciplines, innovation, the loss and recovery of community, religion, and art, the role of the market and the media, the distinction between artisans and artists, and above all the question of making an aesthetic judgment in the field of popular culture.”

One always feels sad on the Bisarjan day. One feels sad that good days are over. One feels sad that such beautiful idols will be immersed and destroyed. There will be suggestions that instead of immersing the idols, these should be kept in the Museums. It is a good idea, but don’t we discard all beautiful things when they have served their purpose. In immersion, there is the hope of a new beginning.

Ruupam Dehi Jayam Dehi Yasho Dehi Dvisho Jahi

Please grant me (spiritual) glory and destroy my (inner) enemies