It’s been 73 years. The Bengalee Association in Bengaluru still holds its grip over conducting the most vibrant Durga puja in the city. As we celebrate Vijayadashami marking the end of Navaratri, it is also the time when devotees bid adieu to Maa Durga which symbolises the victory of good over evil.
The Bengalee Association located at Bengaluru’s Ulsoor is the oldest collective of the Bengali community that has carried out Durga puja celebrations over the generations. Currently, the third generation of association members is carrying forward the legacy that was laid by their predecessors in the 1950s.
After two years of Covid-induced lull in festivities, this time the association has made a comeback but with increased vibrancy and devotion. The puja this year is themed around ‘baran’ – a ritual welcoming ‘Maa Durga’ home.
Tamashrti Deb, who has been part of the association for 15 years says, “This year’s pujo is very special after subdued celebrations for the past two years. The pujo is themed around ‘baran’ which welcomes ‘Maa Durga’ to our home. On the day of Vijayadashami, we devotionally send her back to Lord Shiva, marking the end of Durga pujo. This year we ensured that we install Durga Maa’s idol which is calm and adorable in nature, compared to the aggressive nature which is mostly worshiped.”
She also adds that, “When I came to Bengaluru from Kolkata 15 years ago, I really missed being part of the Durga pujo there. However, joining the Bengalee Association in Bengaluru, I really felt homely. The journey since then has been to accommodate devotees across all sections and promote inclusivity and oneness on the occasion of Durga pujo.”
The Bengalee Association is also displaying the gamcha (cotton clothes), the traditional red-bordered white sarees, and mythological artworks as part of the festivities.
According to the members, the 73-year-old association started off predominantly with Bengalis working in many public sector institutions, including HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, ITI (Indian Telephone Industries), and HMT (Hindustan Machine Tools).
Deb explains that the pujo initially started in the form of Saraswati puja in a library in Malleswaram. With the growing population of Bengalis and the expansion of Bengaluru, one team branched out to celebrate Durga pujo on the other side of the city.
Durga pujo in Bengaluru evolved from a pandal culture to the ‘Kalyana Mandapa’ culture over the years. Vishwarup Ray, whose ancestors were integral to the evolution of the association in Bengaluru said, “The association used to transport the idols from Kolkata to Bengaluru through trains. Earlier, pandals were set up in different open grounds and finally RBANMS Ground in Ulsoor became the home turf of celebrations in the city. Not just Durga puja, the association also hosts Rabindra Jayanti, Nazrul Islam Jayanti in a grand manner,” says Ray, who adds that the association actually pioneered in bringing star singers to the pujo.
He also added that Gitanjali was one of the biggest music festivals held in Bengaluru in 2010 around the Durga puja time. Thousands of Bengalis in Bengaluru thronged the event to catch a glimpse of top singers like Shaan, and Jagjith Singh among others.”
During the festive period the Bengalee Association screened movies and staged dramas which gave people in Bengaluru a sneak-peek into the Bengali culture. “Films like ‘Pather Panchali’ and ‘Sonar Kella’, and dramas plays such as ‘Snow White and Seven Dwarfs’, plays of Bankim Chandra Upadhyay and Satyajith Ray were screened during the festival from 10pm to 11 pm,” said Ray.