Durga Pujo - An emotion

By Chandrima Sikdar

One to reach office usually early, I was getting ready for the day’s schedule. As I stood at the common printer collecting the documents, I saw a senior colleague walking up to his cabin. As he walked past me, he asked with a smile on his face “Puja shopping done?”. Briefly after, while I was still at the printer another colleague came over, possibly to fetch her printed documents. The moment she saw me she said, “All set for Durga Puja?” Having replied to both of them, both Bengalis (needless to say) and having finished with my print work I walked back to my cabin and wondered how most, if not all, conversations among Bengali’s around this time of the year naturally and invariably tend to turn towards topics related to Durga Puja, rather Durga Pujo (as a Bengali would prefer to call it). Such is the importance of this festival in the life of a Bengali.

For a Bengali like me who grew up in the Lake Road area of South Kolkata, the importance of Durga Pujo can hardly be overstated. As a kid, I remember the first thing that we checked when the year’s calendar arrived were the dates for Pujo. And the countdown to the five days of festivities would almost immediately begin. The excitement would grow stronger as the days passed by and as we drew closer to the dates. The month and the days leading up to the final days of festivities were marked with excitement around shopping for new clothes, visiting the tailor, visiting relatives to gift them new clothes, helping mom in cleaning the house, making plans for the five days and so on. Schools and colleges would normally close down for a month, a week before Shashti (the sixth day of Navratri and the first day of Pujo). The actual Pujo feeling would set in with Mahalaya (the day which heralds the start of Navratri the next day). This was a day on which every Bengali household in Kolkata, would wake up to the rendition of the Mahisasura Mardini (destruction of the demon by a powerful Goddess) by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Putting an end to the year long wait, Pujo would finally start with Udhbadhan (inauguration) on Panchami (the fifth day). The next five days would witness frenzied celebrations that would bring the city to a halt.

There was something magical about those four five days. Magical in the way the sky would look, magical in the way the air around would smell, magical in the way the entire city would immerse itself in celebrations and turn itself into a dreamland of joy and togetherness. The glee and the excitement around were infectious. My involvement in the religious rituals (like many other Bengali kid and youth) was to the extent of offering pushpanjali on the morning of Ashtami (the eight day) and accompanying my mother to the Pandal for Sandhi Pujo (the most important ritual of Durga Pujo which is performed at the exact juncture when Asthami ends and Navami (the ninth day) begins); the rest of Pujo was about new clothes, Pandal hopping, gorging on Bengali delicacies and road side food with friends and family and finally settling down for adda at a friend’s place or at the para (local) Pujo Pandal. Thus, Durga Pujo, the annual carnival of Kolkata became the way of my life.

I left Kolkata shortly after marriage when my husband moved for his job to a city down South of India. That was first ever that I spent Pujo outside Kolkata, outside Bengal. It hit me hard. I realized for the first time what Durga Pujo in my city meant to me. It was a part of me. The pain of letting go of that part, the terrible sadness of leaving something behind gripped me like never before. Talking to friends and family back in Kolkata further added to this pain. There was a sense of betrayal. Pujo was celebrated in some corners of the new city I was in and I did make a point to visit some of them but somehow something was amiss. That was the beginning of my acceptance that Durga Pujo would never be the same for me again.

Over the years, as I moved across cities of India and spent Pujo away from Kolkata, this acceptance made my emotions settle down. Today I am way more open to accept and be part of Pujo celebrations in another city. Pujo no longer means checking the dates on the first month of the year, no longer does it involve doing the count down, nor does it involve indulging in day long shopping for new clothes or enjoying month long holidays or being part of a city’s five-day long madness. Yet there seems to be something extra ordinary about these four-five days.

Pujo in Mumbai (my present home), is celebrated in different corners of the city and to be part of the celebrations involves overcoming a number of odds, like travelling through a city going about its normal life, braving the traffic jam that this city is famous for, getting back early from work if it is a week day. Enough reasons to complain and to spoil the celebratory mood. Yet once at the Pujo Pandal, I am willing to forget and forgive everything. The vibe in the Pandal makes nothing else matter. The sound of the beating of the drums, the sight of the idols, the chanting of Ya Devi sarba bhooteshu..., the smell of dhuno (jhuna), holding of flowers for pushpanjali, the food stalls around brings forth the emotions and feelings which are so familiar. These still do not fail to give goose bumps. The spirit of happiness still does not fail to overwhelm; the atmosphere still does not fail to reinvigorate.

Between hopping from one Pandal to the other holding Mom’s hand to sitting at one Pandal on all four days with my young daughter seated next to me, my way of celebrating this festival has undergone so much of change. From a city where everybody would go all out to make the most of these five days to a city where most of the people are not aware of when and where this Pujo is; from animated and elaborate celebrations to celebrations which are rather quiet ones, most of it seems to have changed. What have not changed one bit over all these years are the special feelings, the unabashed excitement and the intense emotions that this annual festival brings around. And they come with the same intensity that they did decades back. As they rightly say, Durga Pujo is not just a festival for a Bengali, it is an emotion.

Chandrima Sikdar

An alumnus of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, Chandrima was born and brought up in Kolkata. Currently she resides in Mumbai with her family. She works for the School of Business Management, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. She is a Professor and Associate Dean at the School. She is a member of North Bombay Sarbojonin Durgatsov Samity.