Durga and Ram need no introduction in England. The low-key celebrations in the 1960s of their triumph over evil on Puja and Diwali are now national events and symbols of diversity in England. Says London Mayor Boris Johnson, “My children are best examples of multi-culturalism.
They do not need Wikipedia to learn about Indian festivals thanks to their grandmother DiP Singh. And being young they sure know Diwali means sweets, firecrackers and new clothes.”
Durga’s popularity is largely due to the efforts of a group of young Bengali students. Full of zeal but no funds, they looked at directory pages, marked Indian names and set out in an old rusty Austin collecting donations, determined to celebrate her triumph over Mahishasur.
The Indian High Commission chipped in providing Kichri (a rice preparation), Amrita Bazar Patrika owner Tushar Kanti Ghosh donated the Durga Pratima, Ambala store gifted sweets, and thus the first Puja was held at Maryward Centre in Russell Square in 1963. Now celebrations are held at a grand scale at 14 locations in London with many volunteers chipping in.
One of them Chandana Sanyal, says, “When I came here as a young bride after graduating from the Presidency College in Kolkata, I missed the Bengali environ. So I started attending Puja. But when my young daughter said the five days of puja are the most wonderful for her in the whole year, I realised that the Durga puja was the best link for the generation born here with the values back home.” In fact this year the Hampstead Town Hall puja was organized entirely by the second generation.
Diwali too was first celebrated courtesy Aajubai, an immigrant from Bhopal who with the help of a few Indian students organised an event in the back garden of her home in Harrow. From her £500 house in the 60s, Diwali is now an annual, Establishment-adopted event. Prime Ministers at annual celebration in Parliament do not refer to notes when they hail Diwali’s message of goodwill and harmony.
Celebrated by many, Diwali is spread over two months. It started this year with a London First, United Kingdom India Business Council and Loomba Trust hosted a dinner and have planned events throughout the month. At Whitehall over £150,000 was collected for educating children of poor widows in India.