Few minutes ago an old friend of mine called to wish me for the upcoming Durga Puja festivals. He said, “It’s Mahasasthi in Kolkata today!” I wished him back, but it occurred to me that it’s Mahasashti everywhere, not only in Kolkata. When I reminded him, he laughed and said, “Yes indeed. But our Sasthi starts on coming Friday!” And he is absolutely right. Our Pujo in New Jersey (I am referring to the Kallol Durga Pujo which we both attend), starts on October 15th, Friday evening and that’s our Mahasasthi. The thought does give me some consolation that Pujo is yet to start and we have few more days to look forward too. But my friends and family in Kolkata have started enjoying their Pujo. They have started posting photos of their favorite idols on Facebook and Orkut, sending Pujo greetings through emails and expressing their joy and merriment. ETV Bangla is taking us through the streets of Kolkata and the online newspapers and magazines giving us day by day commentary of the Pujo happenings. And we cannot deny that this does cause a bit of a tinge in our hearts.
I did not grow up in Kolkata, hence I don’t miss the city festivities. In fact, the few times I have been to Kolkata during the Pujo, I didn’t enjoy the crowd, the hustle and bustle and the inconveniences of daily civic life. The only excitement was drifting from Puja Pandal to Pandal and watching the Pratima and the other pleasant visuals (especially of the opposite sex) around. I grew up in Hijli Kharagpur (IIT Campus) where we had only three very homely Puja’s. We spent all four days of Puja hanging around the Pandals, tasting savory snacks at the make shift food stalls, participated in various events. During the evenings we gathered around the Pratima where the priest performed the arati while the dhakis and the dhunuchi dancers danced to the intoxicating beats and the perfumed smoke from the dhunuchis. I still remember our favorite “Dari Kaku” (you can see him standing on the right side in the picture above), the bearded compounder from our campus hospital drumming to his hearts glee and once in a while pulling in one of us kids to play the “kashar ghonta”! And at the end of the arati, came the prasad that we all waited for. Later in the evening, cultural programs, plays, music and dance livened up the pandal. Our favorite of course were the movie shows, old black and white Bengali movies like Dhuli, Ashite Ashiona, or Neel Akasher Niche with frequent breaks due to changing on the film spools on a singe projector. Late night, when the movie concluded, the grounds looked like a battled field strewn with bodies of children and grown ups sleeping happily under the open sky. Another attraction of the campus puja was the burning of the Ravan effigy or Ravan Dahan. During the Puja afternoons, me and my friends were assigned the task of building the Ravan using huge bamboo baskets and colored papers. On Dashami afternoon the 25 feet high Ravan effigy was installed on the island in our campus lake. The pyro-technicians from Kharagpur town came and installed the bombs and other fire works inside each of the ten heads and the torso. During the evening, the idol was put up on a truck and taken around the campus before the immersion ceremony. Dari-kaku would pull us up onto the truck and we accompanied Maa Durga while dancing to the drum beats and yelling “Bolo bolo Maa Durga ki Joy! Ashchhe bochhor aabaar hobe!”. After the immersion of the Durga idol in the lake and some glorious display of fireworks, an arrow mounted on a wire-guided missile was launched from the banks of the lake. The arrow flew across and hit right on target – the heart of Ravan, and a series of controlled explosions soon brought down the effigy into a pile of ashes.
But the fun did not end with the Pujas. The Bijoya celebration was another great attraction, especially to us the kids who went from door to door, touched the elders feet and waited for the plates to appear from the kitchen filled with sweet and salty treats. This continued till Kali Puja came knocking at the doors.
For me, the Puja’s here more resemble the campus days – a meeting place with friends, to share a laugh and some happiness, to enjoy our kids running around, to appreciate the beautiful ladies around in their wonderful saris, enjoy those not-too-perfect presentations on stage and just reminisce of the good old days.
Happy Puja to all of you my friends. May Maa Durga fill your lives with happiness and joy!