Learning About Our Heritage: A Task For The First Generation

by Amitava Sen

DurgaA few years ago at the annual Durga Puja, the organizing club published a booklet for the benefit of the generation born and raised here, explaining the significance and meaning of the festival and its various events on different days. Rightly so, the narration started with Mahalaya, the new moon day preceding the Puja. Mahalaya is actually a day when Hindus, typically Bengali Hindus pay homage to the ancestors, culminating in Sharodiya Durga Puja six days later. Indeed, it is a Hindu practice to invoke the blessings of the ancestors before any solemn occasion, be it a wedding or an Annaprasan. But that was not what the author of the little booklet wrote in his explanation of Durga Puja for our children. Mahalaya, according to his narrative was the day on which Calcutta radio broadcast an audio musical, Mahishasurmardini. And that was all, what Mahalaya meant! 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.

BSL : Bangla as a Second Language

I had often been requested to write plays for our children. With our kids in mind, few years ago I wrote a play titled BSL or Bangla as a Second Language. BSL is a hilarious short play for children (pre-teens, teens, young adults) of Bengali origin. Neil, Nick, Jay and Seema live in USA. But like all children of Bengali speaking parents, they are being forced to learn Bengali (or Bangla) against their will. Neil, the most innovative and smart kid he is, invents a device that can make one learn Bangla (or any other language) in seconds. Nick agrees to be the first guinea pig for the trials of this machine and the results are – quite unexpected to say the least. Continue reading

Cartoon of the Week 9: Are we Missing Something?

Pujor SaariFrom the recent comments and postings on this and other blogs and from the “addas” at various Bijoya Sammilani parties, I keep on getting a constant message – maybe we are missing the good old style Durga Puja as it used to happen in this part of the world. We all can agree on one thing that back home, the Bijoya Dashami was one of the saddest day of the year. No amount of “Naru”, “Laddu” or “Ghugni” could sweep away the sadness. But when we came to this country, we discovered that Durga Puja does not have to end on one specific day. Continue reading

Are you still Relevant?

by Amitava Sen
He was standing there outside the Puja hall wearing a pained look, like he has been left on the wayside by the world and ignored. I knew the man well, not intimately but well enough over three decades. I have seen him in most of the Pujas since 1976. Part of his misery was the October chill in which he was made to wait. I empathized and asked him what’s going on. It appeared that he could not produce the computer print-out confirming his registration which he claimed to have made on line. Later, one of the officials relented and finally produced his entry badge. It all ended well, so I thought.
But the man remained nonplussed. I asked him not to take it too hard. Doesn’t he realize that he is passé and he is irrelevant now? The Puja officials are quite within their rights. His mistake was to expect a 1976 style congenial familiarity. Too bad that the changing of the guards has passed him by, un-noticed, again his mistake. Continue reading

Another Successful Durga Puja by Kallol of NJ

Dhunuchi danceAfter three days of hectic scrambling, managing thousands of registrants, the blaring music from the entertainers and the long dinner lines, Kallol Pujo celebrations have finally come to an end. Although many skeptics were not sure about how the Pujo would fare out, especially when many people were not happy when Kallol had announced the closure of their registration due to full capacity, overall the people who attended were quite happy. The crowd was well managed and as far as I know, nobody was turned back due to their failure to register early. The new full sized idol of Maa Durga and her entourage was something that attracted many to stand for few extra minutes before the Goddess than before. The simple styling of the idol reminded many of us of our local Puja’s back home. The ample “adda” space all around was also utilized very well. The vendor stalls were quite crowded (except not many seemed to open up new accounts with BoA), especially the food vendor made a killing with $2.00 mini veg chops. The community dinner served in the tents was as predictable as ever, however the lines moved quite fast on all evenings. Continue reading

Cartoon of the Week 8: Puja Prasad

Holy Food, PrasadFinally, the Durga Puja festival is upon us. After all the registration/pre-registration dust settles, we’ll all assemble in front of Maa Durga and pray to give us a good life. We may be at different puja celebrations, but in some way, we all will be connected by the single thread of joy, hope and happiness that this festival has been bringing to us over the years.
One of the most enjoyable things at the Durga Puja festivals is the community dinner. Sitting together and having a nice meal with the rest of the community gives a great feeling of solidarity. But these dinners are also a source of major logistical issues. Continue reading

Kallol and GSCA Durga Puja Registrations Sold Out!!!

This year something unprecedented has happened. The two major Durga Puja committees have closed their doors to the Bengalis of the area who have failed to pre-register in due time. Kallol organizers tell me that they are completely sold out and do not have space for a single extra person. They had to express their inability to accommodate hundreds of people. Apparently this year the township authorities have clamped down with severe restrictions on the number of people that can be accommodated at the Ukranian Cultural/Community Center hall where Kallol celebrates its Durga Puja. It is envisaged that the township authorities will be inspecting the venue every day during the festival during the peak hours. Continue reading

Cartoon of the week 7: Durga Puja Chaanda Collection Service

Chaanda collection service In several of my earlier blog articles, I wrote about our sensitivity to paying Durga Puja contributions (popularly known as Chaanda). The Puja organizers have tried to be innovative in extracting (no I never said extorting) the funds from the pockets of the attendees – they suggested (very strongly) donation amounts which partially resolved the problem but not the unpredictability. They have now resorted to early registration to ensure the committed funds (doesn’t matter if the contributors fail to attend due to weather or personal issues) and again they are successful to a great extent (Kallol has stopped early registration two weeks in advance and have declared “House Full”). Continue reading

Cartoon of the Week 5: Pujo Cartoon


Suggested minumum pieces : 8Durga Puja festival has always been a great source of inspiration to me as a cartoonist. I have drawn several cartoons related to this festival and the way we celebrate it in our adopted homeland. Last week I posted one on the “Chanda” issue. This cartoon (drawn a long time ago for Kallol Sahityo Patrika) also takes a spin on the same touchy subject. In earlier times (late 80′s and early 90′s), the Pujo organizers did not specify or “suggest” any contribution amount to the attendees. The strong “suggestion” became, sort of, necessary from the later half of the 90′s when goat meat (or mutton curry) became a must item at the Saturday evening community dinner. Goat meat has always been an expensive item, and with the unpredictable attendance being a major problem, estimating the amount of meat to be cooked is always an issue. The volunteers serving dinner had to deploy smart strategies to control the number of mutton pieces to the hungry devotees standing in the line. At the beginning phase, they are generally generous, especially to their friends and families. However, soon (after a quick review by the supervisors) the strategy changes to a rationing mode when the number of mutton pieces served becomes indirectly proportional to the number of attendees. Now in this situation, the tired and hungry attendee, who has paid the “suggested minimum contribution” has all the right to demand a “suggested minimum number of pieces” of the precious goat meat. After all, that was one of the key factors that attracted him to this festival in the first place!