Durga Puja of Bengal, Communal Pujas & Bangladeshi celebrations
Bengali Hindu households responded to the Mayer Dak, as Durga Puja arrived in this autumn festival of welcoming the mother home. An amalgamation of cross cultural cuisines and religious traditions which came as a result of Bengal’s active participation in the structure of the history of India, Durga Puja was celebrated inside the homes of people, in their own simple ways with the fervor of a devotee. Yet, today we enjoy it as a more large scale event.
One of the first recorded mass celebrations of Durga Puja happened in the 16th century, patronized by the Nawabs of that era, 6 zamindars were given the privilege to display their wealth, fervour and share the joy with their communities. As much as these 6 zamindars contributed towards unifying the Hindu community while maintaining a relationship of religious tolerance with the ruling Nawabs, Raja Nabakrishna Deb, founder of the Shovbazar Raj family in Kolkata celebrated the decline of the Muslim rule at the hands of Robert Clive. After the battle of Plassey and Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah’s crushing defeat, in 1757 the Munshi or clerk to Warren Hastings, Nabakrishna offered his own home and the deity of goddess Durga to Robert Clive, for thanksgiving. The British became a regular feature in these annual events and they even fashioned the mother goddess statues to look more like Queen Victoria. The Barowari (12 friends) of Guptipara are responsible for making this into a communal festival in 1790. This tradition later culminated into Sarbajanin Durga Puja in 1910, or an “all inclusive” festival and Durga Puja became, what we know it as today.
In Bangladesh, the family of R P Shaha of the Kumudini Welfare trust in Mirzapore, Tangail still host the most organized and festive of pujas in the country. With the students of the Bateshwari Homes volunteering to serve the guests, Hindus from the neighbouring areas, guests from all over the country and patrons of the trust all gather to participate in the Sarbojanin Puja. The vegetable mix or niramish served with rice and chholar daal, cooked in the customary fashion with coconut, is often followed by malpoa as a dessert (or at least on the 9th day or nabammi when yours truly went).
Durga Puja’s first day is Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of the goddess. Celebrations and worship begin on Sasthi, the sixth day. During the following three days, the goddess is worshipped in her various forms as Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati. The celebrations end with bijoya dashami (10th day of victory) when, amid loud chants and drumbeats, idols are carried in huge processions to local rivers, where they are immersed. That custom is symbolic of the departure of the deity to her home and to her husband, Shiva, in the Himalayas. Images of the goddess—astride a lion, attacking the demon king Mahishasura—are placed at various pandals (elaborately decorated bamboo structures and galleries) and temples.
I must admit that I am no expert on Durga Puja foods but I compiled some info here below to help you get a flavor of what is consumed.
The Full Monty
Wonder what’s the popular street food for pandal-hopping Bongs during Durga Puja? Here’s the uncut version:
ROLLS: Egg, chicken, mutton, veg, egg-veg, egg-chicken, egg-mutton, double egg, keema, double egg double chicken…
CHOPS: Fish, mutton, chicken, vegetable (carrot, beet and peanut), mango, banana flower…
CUTLET: Chicken, mutton, vegetarian, kobiraji (You must see how it is m ..