As a C R Park import, thanks to the husband, I remember being the quintessential Bengali from Kolkata; raving about how grand Durga Pujo is in Kolkata, epic pandal hopping stories and of course the vibe in the city. Here, even on Mahalaya, the pandals were still being built, a far cry from Kolkata where the pandals are opened up to the public on chaturthi itself. And then my first shoshti arrived, I woke up to the sound of Dhak and the Prabhat Pheri….I lost my heart to C R Park pujos. Its been 8 years and I have spent every Durga Pujo here!
So what makes Durga pujo special here? Well lets go back into history a bit before that. If you have lived in Kolkata you must have heard the term Baroyari Pujo or the community pujas that you see everywhere, and then there are the Barir Pujo or the family pujo. Now given the economics involved in Durga Pujo, it was originally restricted to Zamindar families. It was way back in 1790 that 12 (baro) brave young boys (yari) raised subscriptions from their neighbors to celebrate the first community pujo. And that truly led to the evolution of Durga Pujo into what we see today. I am not sure if the Pujas would have survived if left to the Zamindar families only. And thats how Durga Puja became a celebration of the sense of community rather than just a religious festival hence Sarbojonin Durgotsavs!
And hence wherever you travel in the world, any place with a sizeable bengali population will have their own community pujo. So when C R Park came into existence in the 1960s as East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony (refers to people who had to relocate to India post the partition, from what is today Bangladesh), it was only a matter of time that a Durga Puja commitee came up. The first Pujo started 44 years back. A year later 3 more pujos came up, a number that has gone upto about 12-13 (in and around C R Park)
It was the singular source for the residents, uprooted from their homes, to come together as a community, to form bonds, to share stories and to preserve their culture in an alien land. And while the Kolkata Pujos have become grander and bigger, the C R Park pujos have managed to preserve the personal touch which is quite missing in the Pujos of Bengal. While Daker Saaj (traditional Durga Idols) have made way for theme pujos here too…the pujos here are still a celebration of people rather than scale. How do we do that? Well read on…
Nothing binds bengalis more than food. Hence Pujo committes here have a special committe dedicated to food. And I am not even talking about the peripheral food stalls that come up in every pandal all over India. The festival here is generally kicked off with an Anandomela (like a potluck, only here people sell the food). So women come together on panchami/shoshti afternoon, bring home cooked and sell them read about it here -https://bookhippo.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/the-panchami-food-fiestaanandomela-bloggersdurgapujo/
And then comes the Bhog. While Bhog is an integral part of all Durga Pujos, here the residents come together every day of the Pujo to eat food together, a community lunch. There are two kinds of Bhog, one which is served to the Goddess and the one which is served to the general public. The bhog for the goddess or the mool bhog is cooked by a group of women. The rest of it is cooked by the caterers. Once the mool bhog is served to the diety, a little bit of it is mixed with the rest of the Bhog and the Bhog bitaran starts.
While the Bhog bitaran started off for the residents initially, now any one walking into a pandal during the afternoon can eat the bhog. Each pandal here serves about 2000-3000 people daily.
Kallol Acharya, the Puja secretary for the Cooperative K block pujo tells me that his initiation into Durga Pujo actually happened as a small kid, packing the fruits and sweets into small packets to be given away as prasad post the pushpanjali.
Every Pujo here have cultural programs, which start even before the pujos begins. Children , youngsters, elders come together to recite, sing, dance, even sonkho dhwani protijogitas are quite a hit (conchshell blowing competition). Though bollywood numbers have over the years found space along with Tagore in today’s program itinerary, bengali artists/ artists from Bengal are still the main attraction.
The brotherhood of the committes
The pujo committes though in competition with each other for the best pujo prize, wholeheartedly come together in time of crisis. Sayan Acharya, one of the Pujo committe members at the B-Block Durga Pujo recounts how all the committes had come together to donate Bhog to the Nabapally pujo , when a fire broke out there a couple of years back.
This aint to say that C R park pujos arent touched by commercialization, they are, but they still make an effort.
Like Pradip Majumdar, secretary of the Kali Mandir society tells me how they have stayed true to the sabeki saaj, no theme pujo for them. They infact follow all rituals to the T, even cultural programs there are strictly bengali and yet it sees the maximum crowd. He tell me they have won some awards as well, despite not participating officially. The glint in his otherwise somber eyes when he talks about his 35 year old association with the pujo, is unmissable.
Eco Friendly Pujas
And no its not all mindless celebrations, Rahul Chakraborty, a pujo committe member of the Cooperative K block Durga Pujo tells me that their Durga protima is completely eco friendly this year. They have even banned plastic for use as plates for Bhog Bitaran and are using Aricana plates.
Tomorrow as Ma bid good bye to us, the B-Block pujo committe and the DakshinPally pujo committe will do a bhoomi Visarjan, no polluting the yamuna.
So today if you are still at home, head to the nearest Pujo Pandal to meet some old friends, to relive some old memories and make some new friends!