Prelude: This post is about Durga Pujo which happens every year in autumn and the most important festival of the Bengalis. We believe that Ma Durga or Goddess Durga comes to visit her parents' home with her four children Lakhi (Goddess of Wealth), Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge), Ganesh (elephant faced God of Wisdom) and Kartik (God of Good Looks). Ma Durga kills Mahishashur who is a demon and symbolises all things evil, thus bringing in peace and prosperity. The festival starts on the sixth day of the Hindu calender which is called sosthi, and goes on till doshomi which is the 10th day and in between are saptami the 7th day, ashtami the eight day and nabami the 9th day. On doshomi it is believed that Ma Durga and her children go back to Mount Kailash where her husband Lord Shiva waits for her. This is symbolised by dunking of idols in the Hoogly River.
Bengalis kind of live for this festival, before the festival there is major shopping done and gifts mostly clothes (saris for women and dhooti punjabi for men) are exchanged. It is essential to wear new clothes and shoes on the days of Durga Pujo. The prayer and rituals are conducted by Bramhins and the general public offer prayers during anjali which happens each morning from soptomi to nobomi. Bengalis usually fast for this and soon after anjali they are given prosad which are fruits and sweet offerings given to Goddess and then distributed. Bhog is the rice offered to the Goddess and then distributed about the public generally during lunch.
After doshomi people visit each other's houses to offer bijoya greetings and are generally offered home made sweets and savoury stuff.
Clubs in Kolkata go all out for this festival, each club tires to have the best pujo and this results in fabulous idols and decorations and lights. The city decks up for those 5 days and it is definitely worth a visit!
Facebook feed is filled with various Durga pujos happening all over Kolkata, some photos of Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore as well. Sitting in my London home on nabami, twiddling my thumbs and wondering what my parents in Kolkata and my brother in Bombay are up to. By now, I think to myself my parents must have come back home for a brief rest after lunch in one pujo bari, before they go out for the sondhya arati. My brother is supposed to be acting in a theatre in a pujo pandal tonight. Wonder if he got off early from office.
I do not call them, there is no point, right now they are all too busy. Let the pujo madness get over, bijoya is the time when we exchange greetings and reconnect. To catch up on the gossip, to know who came home to Kolkata this year, which or rather whose sari had impressed my mom the most, who wore the most flamboyant dhooti, which pujo won the most number of prizes etc etc.
If I close my eyes, I can eye Kolkata in my mind's eye. After the frenzy of ashtami night with the pujo reaching its zenith with sandhipujo when Ma Durga kills mahishashur, nabami is always a slower day.
*By now people are mostly tired, *they have been out since panchami or sasthi checking out all the favourite clubs and the last few year's winners, *been stuck in long traffic jams, *driven around in circles for car parking, *the late nights, if not all nighters, *their new shoes have wrecked pretty thorough damage on their feet resulting in bad limps, *new clothes on all the previous days made their bodies uncomfortable, *the best and most often the most uncomfortable (read heavy kanjiveeram saris and gorod er dhootis) has been worn on asthami night, *and oh the constant eating out-- the puchkas, jhal muris and bhel puris followed by the long queues for biriyanis and chaaps starts taking a toll by nabami.
So nabami, the third day of durga pujo, the ninth day if you translate from Bangla, starts slow. Then suddenly mid morning there is announcement on the para ar club er pujo or mike about anjali starting soon. Suddenly that announcement brings home the fact that you are late, no terribly late, today is the last chance for anjali, lets hurry. Anjali and prasad over, time to check out the winners of Asian Paints Pujo competition-- yes like always Maddox Square has got the best pujo ambience award, which is that obscure club which has got the best idol? 'You know luckily we checked it out on Sashti itself' one or two smug Bengali is sure to say to his/her friend, like they got a tip from Ma Durga herself that club would win in two days time.
It is like I am not there, but yet I am there. In my mind's eye I see it all. The rush for anjali, how the pujo mandops empty after the anjali, a few kids sitting on the chairs, shooting caps on their toy pistols, the smell of faint gunpowder in the air, a few people helping thakur mashi getting ready for Ma er bhog, incense sticks giving off that sweet sticky smell, Hemanta's rabindrasangeet blaring out from the loud speakers. The restaurants start filling up, those who had fasted on asthami are ready to eat on nabami. Already there is an air of despondency. Nabami heralds the end of the pujo, dashami is all about Ma going home. There is a heaviness in the hearts of the Bengalis, pujo is almost over for another year. So make the most of nabami evening. Soon after lunch, people will head back home for a brief rest, before decking up for the last evening of the festivities. The next day's evening is all about Ma ar jawa, so very different in tone and mood.
For this Bengali, pujo this year is in Camden Town Centre. Done the two essentials of pujo anjali and bhog, missed out on sondhye arati and pandal hopping. A small slice of Kolkata replicated in Camden Town Centre...old friends meet, grown up kids shock their parents' friends accompanied by 'oma koto boro hoye gechis' (how big you have grown, Bengalis are over keen of saying this). Yesterday we ate our bhog listening to three ladies chatting about how someone's in-laws are so liberal as to allow her to wear trousers (in traditional Bengali household wearing Western clothes was a strict no no till very, very recently, some still cling on). My husband made a snide remark about how much these ladies can talk. But I loved their conversation...it was a slice of home. It was just the kind of conversation I can hear my mother having with her friends or my aunts. It might sound petty to someone from outside, but having grown up in that society, I know what this means to its matrons. Teenage was the time when I revolted against these notions, now I smile fondly, ready to defend those ladies if needed!
Being away from Kolkata pujo for so many years has changed my definition of pujo. Pujo no longer means shopping till I drop, pandal hopping, long queues, traffic jams, rushing for anjali, hom er tika, bhog er luchi..............it means a time steeped in nostalgia, time for fond memories to resurface, a time to miss home so much that it becomes almost a physical pain. I may not be physically present, but my heart and soul definitely is. Pujo is when every Bengali goes home, at least in his/her heart!