While Navratri takes the form of a ten-day celebration for most communities, for Bengalis, it means the five-day Durga Puja one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year. Apart from holding religious significance, Puja is also a time for community, a time to come together and rejuvenate bonds and relationships.
As it is famously said, Bengalis create a mini-Bengal around themselves wherever they go to cast away the home sickness. And as Hyderabad’s Bengali population grows, so do the number of Durga Puja pandals in the city. This year’s new entrant is the Attapur Bengali Association pandal, which joins the city’s Bangiya Sanskritik pandal at Keyes High School in Secunderabad and Hyderabad Bangalee Samiti pandal at Domulguda.
Talking about how the city feels more like home at this time of year, Professor Souptik Garai says, “Bengalis are a people most prone to homesickness. Wherever we go, we find our own people and a place that we can call a home away from home. Hyderabad does not have the pomp and show of Kolkata during Puja, but there is a sense of homeliness at all the pandals.”
Explaining the religious significance of the festivities, Ayushi Mazumdar, a final-year BA student, says, “We celebrate Durga Puja to mark the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura. Durga Puja is all about embracing new wisdom and bidding adieu to negativity. The eighth day of the festival Ashtami is very important to us. And on the 10th day Dashami women play sindur khela and pray for the return of the goddess with renewed hope and blessings the next year.”
For theatre actor Rita Ghosh, Durga Puja is a cultural and social celebration not limited by religion. “Ma Durga is the daughter of the house, and this is her annual visit home with her children, that’s why we all get into a joyous mood. It is not only a Hindu festival, it is a festival for people from all religions and walks of life, a festival that instils a feeling of love and brotherhood. It is the perfect time to celebrate with family, friends, food, new clothes and the quintessential Bengali adda,” she says.
She adds that Bengalis begin looking forward to the occasion months in advance. “We start stocking up on new clothes from August onwards, I know many people who begin their shopping right after the Bengali New Year in April. Each day of the Puja season there’s a get-together with friends and family, where food, especially non-vegetarian food, reigns supreme. Yes, we do offer prayers, but essentially the spirit of Puja is in our hearts. The anjali time is a time to look around at the bevy of beauties in their designer sarees and guys in their kurta-pajamas and dhotis. Durga Puja is a grand celebration of life, our nostalgia and our emotions. It is a time to reconnect with near and dear ones and making new friends,” she says.