Durga Puja and Cultural Events: The 2009 New Jersey Lineup

Ujjaini MukherjeeIn New Jersey, Durga Puja is a special time when the festive mood brings with it a flurry of entertainment and cultural programs across the state. This year too the line up looks very promising although the spirits have dampened a bit due to the tough economic times and with the rejection of visas of few of the performers.  Still the combination of local talents and professionals from India is bound to enthrall the Puja attendees on the coming weekends.

I’ll try to briefly summarize the lineup this year, although the organizers have in many cases conveniently omitted the details about the local performers from their web sites. I tried to collect as much information I could manage. If any of you have more information, then please feel free to add them to this post as comments. Continue reading

Mahalaya in New Jersey – A Tradition of Our Own

Mahalaya in Bengal is synonymous to the seventy year old radio musical “Mahisashur Mardini” written by Bani Kumar and composed by Pankaj Mallik. Over the years this has become a Bengali tradition to wake up at 4.30am on Majalaya day and listen to this wonderful program that has not lost its charm till date. In fact, in Bengal the demand for new radios spike during this period. The inspiring narration and “Chandi Path” by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the wonderful songs by the great musicians like Supriti Ghosh, Manabendra Mukherjee, and many others cast a spell on the listeners and put them into the Puja mood. Once there was an attempt to change the program and make it more contemporary using stars like Uttam Kumar, but severe protests from the listeners forced All India Radio to scrap it and go back to the traditional format.
In New Jersey, we have developed a tradition of our own. At the Anandamandir, at 4.30pm local musicians gather in front of a packed audience and perform the famous “Mahishashur Mardini” under the guidance of Arun Bhowmik. The musicians, most of whom are accomplished in their own right, devote their time to usher in the Durga Puja festival in front of the idols of Goddess Durga and Kali and create a magical moment for the audience some of whom travel all the way from Philadelphia, Long Island, and other distant cities.
I have attached two clips of this event (recorded on my cell phone) for you to get a glimpse of this event. The audio quality is not too good, but you’ll still feel the electrifying atmosphere that charges us up for the upcoming festivals.

Goat and the Bengali Intelligentsia

goat The intelligentsia (as defined by Wikipedia) is a social class of people engaged in complex mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them.  You can very well attribute this term to the Bengali society who fits this definition quite well.  But what does a timid and herbivorous (although Bengalis think goats to be omnivorous – chhagole ki na khay) mammal like goat got to do with this elite group of people?  The answer to this is well known to all of us – Bengalis love goat meat. Although in other parts of the World, goat milk and milk products (cheese) are also extremely popular, but we the Bengalis don’t care much about the milk.  It is the meat that is most important to us – the ultimate food in any Bengali plate.  Historically, goat meat is the only kind of meat that Bengalis (especially the Hindu Bengalis) ate. Goats were the most popular offerings to Goddess Kali and Durga – and the meat then cooked in a recipe void of any garlic or onions and hence termed as “vegetarian meat”.

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Community News Bites: NABC 2009 and Urhalpool

North America Bengali Conference (NABC) 2009 kicks off at the San Jose Convention Center on July 2nd. The biggest Bengali event of the year will run till July 4th and will feature some of the best performers from India, Bangladesh and USA.

Urhalpool editor Goutam Datta will be awarded the “Distinguished Service Award” at NABC 2009 on Friday, July 3rd at 6:45PM in “Banga Mancha”. The award is given by the Cultural Association of Bengal (the umbrella organization of NABC) for helping the cause of propagating and nurturing Bengali culture in North America.

URHALPOOL (www.urhalpool.com) had been chosen by NABC2009 as their internet media partner. URHALPOOL in association with NABC2009 will be presenting extensive coverage of the event for all 4 days from July 1st to July 4th. Catch up with all the NABC excitement at URHALPOOL(www.urhalpool.com).

On June 26th, Anandamandir hosted their monthly “Sahitya-o-Alochona” meetings where the attendees discussed the celebrated Bengali poet Joy Goswami. The attendees read Joy Goswami’s poems, discussed the artistry of his work and shared their personal experiences with the poet.

Tauryatrika 2009 [the annual cultural program of Bharatiya Kala Kendra - BKK] was a mega success. The event started with an excellent and highly interactive seminar, followed by screening of a movie on Ustad Bismillah Khan [directed by Goutam Ghosh]. In the cultural program, students of BKK put an excellent presentation. At the end, Bappi Lahiri was on top of his form.

Search for Idols

Indian Idol Anu Malik The reality TV show “American Idol” has triggered a new trend – Idol search! TV channels all over the world are searching for idols – or talents. This search is not only limited to the television screen, but it has also proliferated onto the stage in various forms. Although the primary objective of this kind of shows is to screen for talent,  in reality (excuse the pun) it is nothing but an entertainment show. The excitement, the drama, and the occasional emotional outbursts, are all part of the show. Undoubtedly, such shows do bring many talented men, women and children to the limelight, but is this the right way to do explore talent?  In many cases, the exploration turns to exploitation – especially for the young participants. They have to go through a grueling screening process, sustain a tremendous pressure to perform, and then handle a barrage of criticism from the celebrity judges.  I know in one dance show, a young girl couldn’t take the judges criticism anymore and had a nervous breakdown resulting in a paralytic fit. In several instances the young competitors sacrifice their education to continue the show. But the tragedy is, in most cases the winner is not judged by the celebrity panel whose criticism these young participants have to encounter, but rather by the audience through cell/mobile phone text messages (SMS). And in this process, the wireless carrier mints money. I am sure the show also gets their share of this income too.

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West Bengal on the Verge of an IT Revolution?


Debesh DasThe Financial Express on its March 19 issue published an article which drew the attention of many high-tech entrepreneurs. It reported the laying of the foundation stone of a twenty story building that will house the India Design Center (IDC), a semiconductor chip design facility. West Bengal IT minister Debesh Das, who laid the foundation stone, said the facility will be set up according to a concept paper prepared by IIT Kharagpur and will offer semiconductor-related post graduate courses. It will also have space for semiconductor-driven companies and serve as an incubation centre for promoting entrepreneurs. Continue reading