As you gradually come into terms with the grueling hot and humid Indian Monsoon enduring it for more than four months, do you realize suddenly one day that the continuing rains have stopped, the night-sky has become clear, the air has become crisp laced with the smell of Sewali flower, the mornings have become cooler and you can spot little drops of dew on the grass, and above all you are somehow feeling happy? If you do, then you have perfectly sensed the advent of Durga Puja.
For Indians as a whole and for the people in the eastern part of this country in general Durga Puja has crossed all boundaries of religion, cast creed and language. It does not matter any more whether one is a Bengali Hindu worshipping Sakti or an Assamese son of soil more accustomed with worshipping traditional deities, because Durga Puja is not only associated with the ritualistic practices of worshipping of Godess Durga, but is much more associated with the fervor, the fun, the bonhomie, shopping, eating delicacies like jeelebis and much more. It is much of a huge social gathering bound by enthusiasm of festivities and the passion for welcoming the soothing Autumn.
Everything about Durga Puja is passion. Most of us raveling in the zest of Puja hardly ever have any idea about the deep philosophical thought associated with religion and its practices. However, it is the activities related to the Puja like huge decorated Pandals, learge number of people thronging the Puja Pandals and the overall festive atmosphere that draws us to this unique event. The change of season also plays a very influential role in bringing peace and happiness in the mind of the people which is much more pronounced among the children.
Like many among us, we grew up in small town in western Assam during the eighties among a crowd of lazy, crazy, and at times incredibly obsessive Bengali people. For us then, Durga Puja was like a World Cup matches between Argentina and Brazil or like the final between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal; cannot miss it at any cost. We used to prepare for it, gear up properly like dedicated fans with elaborate plans for each day of the Puja. Everyone used to try very hard to come up with the best plan – be it on the donation collection, Pandal decoration, lighting, eating out, shopping and above all the cultural programme. Later, we noticed that the gusto linked to Durga Puja is not less in any other parts of the northeastern region, be it Places like Shillong or Jorhat.
The character of the Puja has remained almost same all these years. For an average eastern Indian and thousands of people of this region settled in other places across the glob, the first individual priority during Puja is new cloths for each and every one in the family. Some of them even buy specific cloths for each of the five days of the Puja. It does hardly matter whether the cost of the cloths justifies the quality. It simply has to be new. The women in the family were much more engrossed and occupied with what to buy or what to wear. Come Puja and everyone try to spend according his means and the market is flooded with varieties – both in terms of styles and prices. Bellbottoms were the craze when we were in the schools. Next year, broad flower patterns dominated the styles of cloths that we vied for. Next year was another style, and more new ones followed. But it has to be new craze every year. I am sure, this year also the marketers will come up with new styles and develop new craze.
The preparation ranges from what to wear to what to eat. Small stalls selling jeelebis, different kinds of sweets sprung up everywhere. It is impossible to think of going without an evening among the family with hot sweets and balloons for the kids during Puja. The market would be brimming with various kinds of toys and a toy pistol was a must when we just started to learn to enjoy Puja. The happiness of looking at children blessed with heavenly pleasure playing with their toys can not be paralleled.
No preparations for Puja are complete without the Dhak and Dhaki. Nothing can announce that the Puja is here better but the monotonous beat of the Dhak. The idol is another area where every organizer try to score over others. Innovations are galore in building the idol. If one Pandal is having the idol made from grass, the other is using paper to make it. The size of the idol generally signifies the size of the budget for the Puja.
Since the day of Mahalaya, the anxious look in the face of the elders in the colony not sure whether the preparations are adequate or not, not so young people engrossed with discussions to complete the preparations, the younger folks too busy with fund collections and Pandal erections, the womenfolk gathering to complete the collections of materials for the actual Puja and finalizing the items for the cultural evening – these are the snapshots of any Puja Pandals. It is amazing to think how fluidly an event can make everyone amalgamated to a unique social identity!
Durga Puja is, however, not merely shopping, eating, group activities and wholesome fun only. For all of us, Durga Puja is an opportunity to renew the vigor and passion for life. It is a time to forget the difficulties, the torments, and the pain that we encounter in our life everyday. We relish the full five days with a kind of gusto and enthusiasm so that we can remember for the rest of the year that after all we are born free.