Aashna Wandani Radha Kanhai, Suriname’s ambassador to India, may have been born and brought up in the Caribbean country where her forefathers settled more than a century ago, but she was never too far removed from her roots. It is because of her Kolkata connect—the mother of her great grandfather was from Kolkata—that Durga Puja has been as much a part of her life as of every other Bengali.
“Durga Puja is organised at our home as well as our locality and is held with as much pomp and grandeur as in Kolkata. It is held for five days, right from Shashthi, and ends with Visarjan. We pay floral offerings to the goddess during all the days. The Visarjan is a big event and we immerse the idols in a river,” Kanhai told Hindustan Times on the sidelines of a programme to unveil a replica of Suriname’s famous Baba and Mai (Father and Mother) statue that pays tribute to the forefathers of the Indian diaspora in the South American country.
Being a Bengali, the mother of her great grandfather carried the tradition of Durga Puja to her inlaws’ house at Gorakhpur. As the family later moved to Suriname as indentured labourers, they introduced the Caribbean country to Bengal’s biggest festival.
“At our pujas, the mantras are chanted in a language, which is a mash of Bhojpuri, Avadhi and Maithili—the regions from where most of the Indians arrived in Suriname during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century,” Kanhai said.