Durga Puja is not just a festival for Bengalis, it’s also a moment of nostalgia and emotion. Right from getting the Pujo Pujo gondho, the serene view of kash-phul to the astami-r-anjali and bijoya dashami, it is the most awaited time of the year. While most Bengalis head back to their hometown, there are an unlucky few who have can’t return home to celebrate the festival. But adversity is the mother of invention, and these expat Bengalis have found their own unique way of celebrating Durga Pujas away from home.
Tapan Banerjee, a resident of Noida, who is also a part of the core committee of Noida Kalibari and one of organisers of Durga Puja there says, “I have been living here for the past 40 years and like to celebrate my Durga Puja at Noida Kalibari. I have never been to Kolkata ever since I have shifted here.”
Sohini Mazumdar, who currently stays in Puducherry, will be travelling to Malaysia this year to spend time with her husband. She points out, “In foreign countries, the Bengali committees which organise the Durga Puja perform the customs and rituals with a lot of faith in them. Unlike back home in Kolkata, where it is more about the thrill and excitement of the festivity and less about the Puja itself.”
The customs and rituals are the same for residents staying outside Bengal. Banerjee says, “It’s the same as it used to be in Kolkata. The Puja starts right from early morning. I begin my day by giving offerings to Maa Durga, give anjali, have prasad and then enjoy the rest of the day with my friends and family here.”
On a similar note, Anindita Ghosh, whose hometown is in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, has been a resident of North Campus, Delhi for a few years now. “I stay with my parents and have been celebrating Durga Puja in Delhi for four years now. Since I am a teacher, I directly go to the pandals after work. My favourite being the Kashmere Gate Puja and the CR Park Puja. I like the fact that Durga Puja is a community festival and we celebrate it here with equal enthusiasm by following the same rituals.”
Continues Ghosh, “I go to the pandals with my Bengali friends and gorge on the delicious food there. The Mutton Biriyani found near the Kashmere Gate Puja is amazing and reminds me of home! I also love the luchi-alur dum there and the sweets. I prefer spending the festival here as most of my friends have shifted to some place or other and no longer live back home. I realised that I am not missing out much despite not heading back home.”
She further points out that although everything is similar to the Bengal Durga Puja, there’s a slight difference and it’s a good one. “Since most of my friends here are non-Bengalis, they are much more excited about what goes on during the festivities. That is when I become their guide and take charge of explaining to them the importance of this festival.”
Banerjee explains what takes place during this time. “In the afternoon, after having the bhog, we head home for a while, rest and return in the evening. On Panchami, a competition is held every year. Called Ananda Mela, Bengali women cook food and a competition is held between the cooks. A cultural programme that includes traditional dancing and singing takes place late in the evening and continues till 11 pm. We spend the four days like this and on Vijaya Dashami we immerse the idol. People from all over Noida come here to celebrate during this time of the year.”
Ghosh says, “I do have a friend who stays here alone and asks her parents, who stay in Kolkata, to attend Durga Puja here in Delhi. Her parents are more than happy to join her. I have another friend who is also from Kolkata, but has been living here for the last 15 years. She is part of the core committee of the Kashmere Gate Puja and she enjoys celebrating here more than back at home. I have never seen her heading back home during this time of the year.”
Mazumdar reveals what a typical Durga Pujo looks like in Malaysia. “The Bengali women cook food together, conduct various cultural programmes and perform Dhunuchi Naach as well. Since we do not get Dhaakis there, we have to play the tune on CDs instead. A purohit is flown over from Delhi every year for performing the rituals. Even the idol of Maa Durga is shipped from Kolkata every three years and brought in here. We have a lot of fun.”
Home, after all, is where your family and friends are. And festivals can be celebrated in any location across the world. Mini Bengals are not difficult to find or create. And for the probashi Bangali, being away from home during this time has led to not just them celebrating the festival outside Bengal, but also to them introducing others to Durga Puja. Truly embodying the spirit of a festival which is for everyone.