Durgapuja, the grand festival of Bengal, is around the corner. It is a yearly event, but the build-up of excitement starts not just a few days before the festivities but right after the end of previous year’s celebration, culminating in the four days of puja. The event has a few parallels in the world. Recently ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ has found place in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
I have very fond memories of new dress, pandal hopping and special food especially in my childhood which is the best time to enjoy any celebration. But what makes me marvel at is the enormity of creative energy that is unlocked by the celebration.
Firstly, the clay idol of the goddess Durga itself is made by idol makers with such dexterity, making it always look different from their old work or those of others. Then the pandals are decorated with colourful clothes, but often artists come up with innovative ideas and spring surprises by using materials such as jute, waste bottles, glass, paper and wood. They also base them maybe on themes such as current events, history and environment, to carry important message to the people.
The streets are festooned with lights with special patterns, creating a delightful panorama for the visitors as they push their way through the crowd up to the pandals. The competition between clubs that organize the mass celebration only improves the quality year after year as they try to outdo each other in grabbing attention of the public and having footfalls at their venues.
Publishers bring out special editions of magazines with more stories, novels and poems. The writers seem to save their best writings for the puja editions when they can reach the maximum readers and audience. The Bengalis are avid readers and make their budget for buying the puja editions.
Similarly music is composed especially keeping in mind the celebrations and albums are released as music lovers eagerly look forward to them throughout the year. I relish the new stories and music at this time year after year.
Another aspect of it is adda (Bengali equivalent of long conversation by a group). The unadulterated adda goes on before, during and even after puja at homes and pandals, and Bengalis engage in conversation with near and dear ones about life, culture, achievements and their joys and sorrows. People who live away from family for livelihood return home to take part in the celebrations.
I am not a good conversationalist, but I do take part in the adda for exchange of notes, fun and also for reconnecting with friends and relatives whom I might be meeting perhaps after a long time.
Durgapuja is close to the hearts of the Bengalis. It is a time for renewal, a time to soak in the festivities greatly enriched by a huge amount of painstaking creative work. Autumn, the season, gives nature a facelift during the puja. The flowers that bloom and the dew on the grass and the clear blue sky are the signatures of the season. Together they act as the perfect foil for the colourful celebration of Durgapuja.