Asche bochhor abar hobe: Ma Durga on a world tour
For a Bengali, the calendar year starts and ends at Durga Puja and the community’s excitement surrounding the autumnal festivity has no bounds. So, it is no surprise that the community, which has its presence all over the world, takes its Durga Puja wherever it travels. While Bengalis living in India are suffering from post-Durga Puja nostalgia, Bongs around the world have only just finished with their celebrations.
A few of the Durga puja committees in North America (Canada and USA) decided to worship the goddess this previous weekend. Communities in this part of the world seldom follow the astrological timings of the four-day festival. In UK, however, the festivities coincided with those back home, and wrapped up in two days.
“We are a small community in Nottingham celebrating puja for the second year now. It started with five families and has gotten bigger. It’s not just a Bengali festival for us, since people from other communities participate, making it more of a cultural activity,” say Bonny Ghosh Mitra, one of the organisers of the festival.
While Nottingham is in the East Midlands of the UK, with less Bengali population and less buzz, the scene in central London is quite different. With traditional idols being brought from Kumartuli, the potters’ quarter in Kolkata, the English capital has no dearth of enthusiasm. “This is my first puja away from home. I’m missing Kolkata’s pandal-hopping and delicious home-cooked food, but I have been part of a group, Indian Bengali in UK, where all the Bengalis living in UK and London come together to celebrate puja. We had gone out for a picnic also. That kind of compensated the absence of family during the festival,” says Dr Anirban Ray Chaudhury.
Europe has welcomed Bengalis with open arms and every country has a community celebrating Ma Shakti for years now. The Cologne Durga Puja is the biggest in Europe, thanks to Bharat Samiti members. They have celebrated the 28th edition of the puja this year. And the festival truly transcends barriers of caste, religion and even nationality. Ahsan, who was attending the puja for the first time, is from Karachi, Pakistan. “What I love about the festival is the relatability, [the similarity] between the cultures and both the countries. I will come back again next year. The food was so good, I specially loved the patishapta (a Bengali delicacy),” he says.
Similar thoughts were voiced by Debosmit, who has been visiting the this puja for eight years now and has made the city his home. “I have my set of friends and we come here every year. It keeps me connected with my roots. Roshogolla, patishapta, jhal muri, and other simple things served here make me miss Kolkata a little less,” he says.
Poulomi and Cosmica are puja enthusiasts who travel all the way from Belgium to the West German city to offer anjali (offering made to the goddess), eat khichuri bhog and be part of the cultural shows as well. “I have visited many pujas in Europe. The one in Cologne wins hands down. It is so well-organised and the ambience and food remind me of Kolkata. There is no entry free and everyone is welcomed and they are even encouraged to participate at the cultural shows. And the home-made sweets are a winner!” says Poulomi.
Techie Saptarshi Bera, who practises photography as a hobby, says that pujas in the lap of the Alps somewhat make him miss home less. “I live in Zurich and the biggest Durga puja festival of Switzerland happens here. I love to capture moments, the beautiful autumn, and, of course, the deity. I do miss my city, my mother and home, but the warmth of this place and the essence of the surroundings, make up for it.”
For Garima Sarkar, Puja is not only the homecoming of the goddess but also that of her husband — the two have been in a long-distance marriage for some time now. “My husband lives in Texas and he is flying to Canada for puja. So, it is really special for me. Here in Hamilton, the Ramkrishan Mission organises Durga Puja. We go there to be part of the festivities. Puja is also about cooking and feeding our loved ones. I have picked up new recipes, that I have experimented with during puja.”
In the US, the East Coast Durga Puja Association is arguably the oldest puja committee, and they celebrated 50 years of Durga Puja this year. The organisers take pride in stating that the festival has been a melting pot of different cultures, with Bengalis, both of Indian and Bangladeshi origin living in New York taking part and making it a success.
“We have been able to invite a host of popular artists from Kolkata to perform at the festival. This year, (actor) Rituparna Sengupta and (singer) Anupam Roy were part of the celebrations,” says Prabir Roy, the former president of the organisation, which started in 1970. The pandal saw 700 visitors each day for three consecutive days.
Celebrating puja in the West Coast of the US for 10 years now, Amrita Ghosh from Kolkata says that Puja in America is more like a community fest where a handful of Bengalis get together over a weekend. The same idol, shipped from India, is worshipped for 4-5 years. Most times, the four-day festival is squeezed into two days, which is an ideal example of necessity being the mother of invention.
“A lot of focus is on cultural programs where members of all age groups are encouraged to participate in drama,singing,classical dance, showcasing Bengali culture.However the pandal and art work are missing due to logistical constraints,” says Amrita.
Truly, Bongs thrive on festivity and Durga Puja is the biggest of them. Still trying to get over the leaving of Ma Durga this year, the community is chanting asche bochhor abar hobe and dreaming for the year next.
Follow the author on Twitter @nabanitadas09