So with just another week to go before Mahalaya, which basically acts as a pre-cursor to the most awaited five days of a Bengali, I write this because at the moment, I couldn’t figure out any other way to express the emotions that a Bengali goes through this time, every year.
So before I get into the more positive thoughts, let’s start with clearing out certain misconceptions here, shall we?
So what are we talking about here, ah yes, Durga Puja (although I always prefer to use ‘Pujo’ more often, let’s keep aside the much sweeter Bengali version of the word for the time being!). So Puja as per Wikipedia is “a religious ritual performed by Hindus as an offering to various deities, distinguished persons, or special guests”. Now let’s concentrate on a few words of critical importance here.
“Religious ritual” you say Wiki? Well, maybe yes, but perhaps not all encompassing enough to define the special case of Durga Puja. You see, the Puja in the ‘Durga Puja’ is just one of the many events that completes this cultural extravaganza. And the religious bit ends here. We do not follow the typical conventions that are enforced during the average religious ceremony, we eat what we want to, we dress up the way we want to and we break free from all the rules that are there even during the other days of the year! More on the other events later. For the time being, let’s quickly forward our attention to the other significant words.
“Offering to various deities”. Ah yes, in the strictest sense, perhaps it is an offering. But right from our childhood days, the story that we are told is far less strict you know. This is the season of homecoming of our Holy Mother, who returns to her parental house (‘bap er bari’ or ‘mayeka’), with her four children for these five days. For the children, it’s of course their mama’r bari (sorry, I couldn’t figure out what to call this in English, uncle’s house sounds way to generic to me). And anyone who has ever been to their mama’r bari would tell you, this is where they would have had all the rules relaxed and demands pampered to. As for Durga herself, this is her house of course, where she always belongs. On the day of Dashami, when she leaves for her Holy adobe again, you would see pale, glum faces everywhere, as if someone from the family is leaving the house, a sadness that could never had existed if our Durga was just a deity. Durga is simply one of our own, the quintessential ‘ghorer meye’. You see, the relations here are much more easy-going that what you would have between a deity and her worshippers.
“Distinguished persons, or special guests”, this is how Wiki defines the worshippers of a Puja. Except, Durga Puja is, in very simple terms, celebrated by all. Yes, people actually relish standing in multiple hour longs queues throughout the five festive days and nights to get an entry into pandals, which, unlike the average temple, are more like magnificent displays of art housing Durga and her children. And one glance at the people standing in any queue would give you a fair idea of why I preferred using the seemingly exaggerating term, ‘all’.
Durga Puja does not have many of the stricter religious rules and boundaries that defines almost all other religious events and perhaps it has evolved into this over the years to become what it is now. In fact, most of the organizations are not religious in nature but are rather cultural associations. And once the religious borders are dissolved, you see, it becomes much more of a community event, where anyone would be more inclined to participate.
And now that the religious borders are pushed aside, Durga Puja essentially transforms into a city wide carnival, with music playing all around, delicious, and often very unhygienic food of all varieties being sold on the streets, people putting on the best that’s there in their wardrobe together with a smile on their face, and timelines of daily routines happily gone haywire. It is an occasion when an entire metropolis chooses to forget everything and celebrates to the fullest. The ever dying city of Calcutta, rejuvenates itself, with magnificent displays of art and breath taking array of lights ornamenting every old nook and corner, transforming the dilapidated city temporarily into one of the most happening places on Earth.
The grandeur of the occasion simply makes the Puja itself far less significant. The celebrations overwhelms the ceremony! This is our ‘Pujo’!
To understand the spirit of a Bengali, the way we accomplish our religious beliefs, the deep-rooted pride in our culture, the admiration that we have towards art, the sheer warmth of being together again, and our openness to celebrate a festival simply because it is one, you must visit Calcutta once during Pujo, and trust me, every bit of this would be more believable.
Soak into the festivities and let the magic of Pujo overwhelm you!