Any Indian festival is not complete unless there is an overwhelming presence of sweets, rituals and festivity which is to be shared amongst your loved ones. Durga Pooja is no expection to this and 2016 is my second year of Durga Pooja as a Bengali Jamai.
Being a Tamil Brahmin, I always felt that there is something amiss with the Tamil festivals like Pongal, Diwali or Vinayaka Chathurthi on comparison with this massive ten day celebration called Durga Pooja. Although the answer was rather simple, it took me a while to understand that it was the coming together of an entire community. This community which automatically gathers during the beginning of every Durga Pooja transcends several factors like caste, creed and social status.
Each middle/lower class Bengali family ensures that they save money for the entire year and splurge the same during these ten days. Infact one can say that most of the Bengali families try to make all their new purchases during this time of the year. With the onset of Mahalaya, festivities would have begun to sink in for the Bengali family. They try to look their best each and every day for the entire duration of ten days and by doing so they create a sense of oneness with their own Maa Durga in terms of grandness.
This community which sits together with their action plans just a few months ahead of the pooja, decides on several points:-
1) What theme to select for their PANDAL (A structure which holds together all Gods & Goddesses)?
2) Whom to approach for sponsorships?
3) What programs to conduct during within the community for those ten days?
4) How much of their money goes to charity of underprivileged?
5) And finally the million dollar question which matters to every Bengali, what food to serve on which day?
This Durga Pooja budget planning commission will probably be as big as the Indian Budget for each and every Bengali who is part of his/her community. There is an unanimous participation in each community irrespective of how small or big they are. The community formation criteria is most likely determined by the place of stay or location of his/her ancestral home.
Thousands and thousands of small/medium and massive sized pandals are constructed across India each year depending upon the contributions from each community. Infact there is a certain cold war of pride which goes on between each communities as to who can outdo the other in terms of grandness of their own Maa Durga. Starting from Panchami to Dashimi, people walking all round the night to visit several of these Pandals is a very common site.
So coming back to the prime question, how can the entire community come together to celebrate these ten days with very little qualms? That too in a communist dominated state like West Bengal, how can one flaunt on being so devoted with their Hindu Gods and Goddesses? The answer to the question lies in the question itself, it is the factor which forms the community.
Although one might argue that it is the Communist practice of social inclusion which could have brought about the entire community together, what one fails to understand is that there is no Hindu sruti which propagates social exclusion. If one takes the examples of Vinayaka Chathurthi in Maharashtra, Diwali in northern part of India, Jenmashtami and Holi celebration in the entire country, coming together of people from various sections to embrace each other as one is a very common site. The aura of Durga Pooja reminds me of the same splendor, although it is prolonged to a period of ten days.
Not only does the community celebrate the welcoming of Maa Durga into their community but her send off during Dashami/Dusserah is equally enthusiastic. I was able to see several trucks loaded with Durga, Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Vinayaka and Karthikeyan sent off in a tradition quite unimaginable. There was British bands, there was traditional folklore and there was everyone doing everything to simply make noise. It was a mix of frivolous display of dance, drums and colors.
As Durga goes into the Ganges for her Visarjan, the average Bengali only sits and awaits the start of next Pooja as to when he/she can start over this tradition all over again.