Monday, 14 October 2013

A Collage of Bengal's Durga Puja

Increasing crime against women all over the country seems to have influenced puja organizers  to choose themes in Kolkata and in districts of Bengal. Many puja committees this year have used the platforms of Durga puja, a symbol of woman empowerment, to sensitize people against female foeticide and child marriage.

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They do not know who will die next time. They are the AIDS patients of The School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata. But they are used to be taken to a trip by car on 'Mahastami' (second day of puja ) morning every year since 2009 to observe the pomp and glory of Durga puja. The arranging agent, Medical Bank, has failed to make the trip this year for lack of money. Next year the trip might be possible, but some of the patients will not be there for the trip.

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Durga puja in Bengal

The sex-workers of Sonagachhi, the largest red-light area of the City of Joy, have fulfilled their long cherished dream this year. Married women have smeared vermilion on the forehead of Devi Durga for the first time. After long battles in the Courts of  Law to worship the Devi openly they took part in vermilion play with fellow sex-workers from other parts of the city on 'Dashami'.Visibly overwhelmed, they broke into tears of delight, when enlightened visitors supported their initiative for the arrangement of the Devi Durga Puja.

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At dead of night of 'Saptami' five-six gunmen raided a 'Durga Mandapa' of a distinguished family at Tapsi village of Jamuria in Burdwan district, unfastened the original gold ornaments (more than 600 gms. ) from the idol of the Devi and ran away with the booty after overpowering the two guards. It appears that even Devi Durga is not safe now-a-days.

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Despite two dry-day on 'Astami' and 'Dashami', the two other days of Durga Puja have touched a new record sale of wine in Bengal this year, Seventy five crore rupees ( USD 12500000 ) has been deposited as sales tax only in the State's treasury for the sale of the wine - a all time record. Bengalis have taken a bath of wine during the festival !

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The Government of West Bengal has joined the bandwagon of declaring prizes for best pujas in Kolkata and in districts of the state. Till date an exclusive area for private initiative, the government has chosen to break the tradition to utilize the platform of Durga puja for publicizing its projects. Community pujas highlighting the government's social projects and cottage industry of Bengal will be awarded.

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In Durgapur of Asansol district of Bengal people have witnessed a novel thing in a 'pandal' - the temporary home of Devi Durga. Here, grasshoppers are attracted to artificial coppice than real ones by the side of the 'pandal'. The insects are appeared to be more interested in clean and green artificial thickets than dirty but real bush. In another 'pandal' of Asansol the chariot of Devi Durga is seen to be drawn by bullocks instead of horses, as described in the mythology. The reason forwarded by the locals is that it is a sign of respect to the agriculture minister who is incidentally a local person. So, political consideration seems to be overriding mythological description at last.

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The flow of poor people of distant districts into Kolkata has significantly dropped this year. Train-load of people were used to come into the city and they were observable everywhere hopping 'pandals' throughout nights. Considerable increase in transport fare, emergence of big community pujas in districts and fear of bad weather have reduced the flow of human traffic, an assessment report says.

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The date has come to bid adieu to 'Maa Durga' and she is returning for one year to her father-in-law's home in the Himalayas. At 'pandals' married women are busy waving articles of worship before the Devi  for temporary farewell and smearing vermilion to fellow married women. 'Dashami', the date for immersion of Devi  Durga idol into the river Ganges, is also a day of sorrow for Bengali in general.

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More than 100,000 idols have been immersed in the downstream of the river Ganges in Bengal this year. If all festivals are taken into account, several lakh earthen idols are immersed every year in the river. Chemicals used for colouring clothes and body of idols are heavily polluting the water, according to a green activist who has moved the National Green Tribunal for a eco-friendly alternative to the custom of idol immersion. Contextually, as an alternative to immersion, one big idol of Durga ( 24 feet tall ) was melted by water cannon at a salt lake 'pandal' this year.

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In the aftermath of Durga puja there is a rush for beautiful idols, pieces of decorative art forms of 'pandals' or even portion of 'pandals' for preservation. The requests to Puja Committees  are pouring in from big businessmen, state government, National Academy of Arts and even reportedly from a musium of Rome, Italy.