This year, I decided to do some research on the tradition of Durga Puja. It is an annual festival celebrated by Bengalis world over for the worship of the Hindu Goddess of Durga. It is that time of the year when Bengalis venture into all possible shops to purchase new clothes to wear on all the days of the Puja; undoubtedly, shopping being one of the favorite activities of many people and what better time as auspicious as the Pujas! Besides that, several localities sponsor Durga Puja events, which brings into the purview, not just the active participation of Bengalis, but other communities residing in the same area as well.
Being a Bengali brought up in Delhi, I have always appreciated the sheer enthusiasm with which my non-Bengali friends look forward to visiting the Puja pandals with me. The festive season witnesses, other than the Puja, several dance competitions, drama workshops, game stalls and activities; there is something special for everyone belonging to different age groups. Sure enough, it is a festival that I look forward to every year.
Durga Puja, as a festival, rose to prominence during the British rule in India. Hindu reformists proclaimed Goddess Durga to be an icon for the struggle of Indian independence. It began as a small community festival in the early 20th century, and is now celebrated on a large-scale by the Bengali population scattered in different parts of the world. All pandals are artistically decorated, reflecting the aesthetic tastes of different regions. Durga Puja also includes the worships of Gods and Goddesses like Shiva, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Mahishasura.
The Bengali-calendar determines the days when Durga Puja celebrations take place, referring to all six days as Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Nabami and Bijoya Dashami. Durga Puja is not just specific to the Bengal community. It is called the Navratri Puja in Gujarat, Punjab and Maharasthra; Bommai Kolu in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Mysore Dussehra in Mysore and Karnataka; and Kullu Dusseshra in Himachal Pradesh. Therefore, while every region celebrates the festival in tandem with their culture, this is a festive season for all.
Every pandal is special in its own way, for the sheer effort to make it look beautiful, the heartfelt thought that lies beneath all the events, and these days, even rock band performances, that are organised by enthusiastic people, and of course, the authentic Bengali delicacies available at food stalls. Pandal hopping is a fun-filled activity, however, a major drawback is the chaos caused on roads due to traffic jams.
Several people have raised issues regarding the commercialization of Durga Puja in the last ten years. Most idols are not made of eco-friendly material which adversely affects the environment during the immersion of the idols in the Holy Rivers. They are made of toxic dyes, plastic and cement which are non-biodegradable. Since they are largely insoluble, they reduce the oxygen content in the water that kills fish and aquatic species. The paints used contain mercury and chrome, which contaminated drinking water.
I strongly believe that a festival can be enjoyed when it considers all its consequences on society and the environment. On one side, we all look forward to these enjoyable days of the year, but it is a matter of concern, especially in today’s world, to protect nature in our own small way. So while it is nice to celebrate the festival with our loved ones, it will be nicer if none of our activities have a destructive impact on the balance of nature.
And before I forget, Shubho Bijoya!