With four days remaining, here’s where you can get your Bengali fix this Navaratri
What does Durga Pujo mean to a Bengali?” That’s a question Bengalis and Google are well used to answering. The search portal throws up several answers and articles. But nothing can quite explain the emotions and nostalgia attached to it. Ask a Bengali what Durga Pujo means to them and they may just write a paean. It’s as much about dhaak, dhunuchi and pushpanjali as it is about revelry and great food.
It all starts with Mahalaya, the day Durga is believed to make her entry into Earth, a week before the beginning of the actual festivities. The day begins at 4 a.m. when the TV and radio are switched on for the relay of Mahishasuramardini in the captivating voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Those living away from Kolkata find themselves huddled in front of YouTube to watch, goose bumps and a lump in the throat guaranteed.
Now, the countdown has ended, and here we are, bang in the middle of the biggest celebrations for Bengalis. But the joie de vivre is not just limited to the community. Like most festivities in the country, it’s a universal celebration. New clothes, new shoes, fasting, hours spent in the pandals, music,dandiya, Rabindra Sangeet, natok (plays)… Kolkata begins to resemble Las Vegas, with all its glittering bright lights and dizzying themed pandals — there’s the Eiffel Tower, the Lords stadium, Lego house,stree shakti, and this time, it’s got the first-ever transgender idol as well.
The planning for pandals starts almost immediately after the previous year’s pujo is done. Delhi and Mumbai, too, focus on creative themes. This time, the African island of Sao Tome and Principe has issued 1500 stamps with Goddess Durga on them; they are adorned with velvet and Swarovski elements. Meanwhile, in faraway Copenhagen, a homesick group puts the finishing touches to their simple pandal. In Chicago, one of the many Bengali youth committees is
delighted about their leave getting sanctioned, as they busy themselves with pujo rituals and preparing bhog on their own, with recipes from their families back home. Sometimes, it’s done over Skype, and sometimes, the salt may be a little more, but that doesn’t matter — it’s all about the bonding and togetherness.
The Bengali associations of Chennai are promoting a similar line of celebration. They may not be big on themes or have an elaborate idol with the lights of a Paradis Latin show, but they painstakingly arrange every little detail that a Bengali looks out for during this festival.
The Bengal Association, T. Nagar
For most part of the year, this building is like the plain Jane in high school. But come pujo and it’s decked up like the prom queen and has the airs of one too. Celebrating its 82nd pujo this year, this is perhaps the oldest Bengali association in Chennai. After the jostle to get a parking space, it’s the unmistakable whiff of chicken rolls that calms your senses. Once inside, there are the large idols of Durga and her children Ganesh, Karthik, Saraswati and Lakshmi taking centre stage. The idols are made by Jivan Krishna Pal, a sculptor from Kolkata, who stations himself here for a month and a half, creating the idols. The cooks also have been brought in from West Bengal along with numerous containers of spices and condiments.
Bhog is served in the afternoons; the menu varies from pulao to khichdi. Other than that, delicacies such as pulao and kosha mangsho, mughlai and chaats should keep the rest busy. “Last year, luchi and aloor dum were the favourites and we ended up selling 800 plates per day. Yes, we are prepared for that this year as well,” smiles one of the officials. There are cultural programmes in the evenings, the highlights being Bratati Bandhyopadhyay’s recitals of poems about the Goddess on Wednesday.