Thousands of Bengali immigrants and other members of the Indian diaspora ushered in the Durga Puja celebrations with much fanfare and gusto in Sydney.
Colourful pandals (marquees) adorned with spring flowers and intricately carved deities, women draped in dazzling Baluchari, Dhakai, Tangail and Kantha saris and men in traditional kurta and dhoti created an aura of Durga Puja back home last weekend.
Partho and Shampa Das recall their first puja here in 1978 when they had just migrated to Sydney from Mumbai. "At that time there were about 200 Bengali families, but this year we have had seven pujas across Sydney alone, reflecting the growing number of Bengali migrants," says Das, a mechanical engineer, who moved the puja venue from his home to a school hall as the numbers swelled.
"People are very keen to participate and contribute their skills and talents to make this a great event for family and friends. This year we had 2,000 people at our Uttaran puja in the Western Sydney suburb of Carlingford," he said.
While Das an accomplished musician and sculptor has carved and painted the deities from balsa wood, kids were encouraged to enter into a drawing and painting competition while the audience were treated to traditional Rabindra Sangeet and modern fusion music.
For Aditi Coomar, an architect and town planner who migrated to Australia from Kolkata in 2003, the friends at the pandal have become her extended family in this adopted country.
"Puja has been a great way of connecting with other people in the community. It has made the transition to settling in a new country a lot smoother. In the last two years, we have seen a lot of young couples, especially skilled migrants, and students come to the prayers and festivities," Coomar told IANS.
As the community grows in multicultural Australia, there have been many mixed marriages. Florence Das, an Australian-born Greek, married her Bengali husband 14 years ago and is a keen participant in the organisation of the puja.
"I am fascinated by the richness of culture. My introduction to Indian and Bengali culture was through Indian cinema. We celebrate Christian and Hindu festivals with the same zest and vigour," Florence told IANS.
In Melbourne, a thousand Bengalis from across the state and as far as Canberra gathered at a football club in the southern suburb of Keysborough to celebrate the Durga Puja.
"The deities, made from shola (pith) and coconut fibre, were brought from Kolkata a couple of years ago. The puja here is very conservative, adhering to old rituals. Everyone gets involved in great community spirit, teenagers cut the fruits for prashad and women prepare the sweets. However, with increasing numbers we had to hire a caterer for the past couple of years to prepare the traditional lunch," say Sandeep and Sarmishta Bannerjee, who migrated to Melbourne from Mumbai in 1992.
Throughout this festive week, people are getting together at the puja pandals after work.