Ashwiner sharado praate, beje utheche aloko manjir
Dhoronir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala
Prokritir ontorakashe jagorito jyotirmoyi
As the clock strikes 4 in the morning on Mahalaya, it's time to listen to the radio for every Bengali family across the globe. With the soft, melodious sound of the Shankar, begins the traditional and nostalgic 'Mahishasur Mardini' chanted by the prominent artiste Sri Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The stotram in the dynamic voice of Bhadra excites every bong ear igniting the emotion and celebration of the Goddess with ebullience. Mahalaya marks the beginning of devi paksha and the end of pitri paksha; it is an auspicious day for Bengalis and is celebrated with all the fervour no matter where they are in the world. Mahalaya is observed seven days before the beginning of Durga Puja.
Sutapa Bandyopadhyay, a resident of Dwarka, New Delhi says, "I have been staying in Delhi for the past 34 years and take immense pleasure in celebrating Durga Puja here. What I feel is that Durga Puja is a heterogeneous festival as it witnesses the participation and involvement of not only Bengalis but people of other communities as well. This is why Durga Puja is considered Sarbojonin – Puja for all!"
With all the rituals being systematically followed, the Dwarka Kali Bari Puja marks its dynamism. On the day of Mahalaya, one of the apartments at Sector 6 at Dwarka plays 'Mahishasur Mardini' at 6 in the morning where many people converge and take delight in it. A probashi (non-resident) Bengali from Mauritius recounts her experience of Durga Puja there, maintaining anonymity, "My husband and I arrange the Puja celebrations at Nirban Mandir every year. Our idol is given a unique shape with a variety of home-made products including fresh dung, turmeric powder, cardamom powder, clove powder, jaggery, powder of carom seeds and white sesame, and pulses that are all mixed with mud. Our purpose to mould the Goddess with eco-friendly items is to feed the aquatic animals with these materials at the time of immersion. We avoid using chemicals to prepare the idol since they harm the underwater creatures."
"We have been successful in welcoming 'Maa' with our own resources. 'Maa' has showered blessings on both of us so that we could manage to start such a noble act. As per mutual discussions, I take care of all the rituals and ceremonies, and my husband takes the responsibility of preparing the Mahaprasad during this period. We take delight in making veg biriyani because Mauritians savour the dish on the special occasion and manage to feed almost 600 people."
Another resident of Mauritius, of Indian-origin says, "We celebrate Durga Puja for nine days in Navratri style, in order to attract people from all communities. Durga Puja is for all, so it should not be Bengali-centric only. We believe in the heterogeneity of this grand festival."
The significance of Durga Puja is that it brings matri shakti or female power into the forefront. The festival denotes the victory of good over evil. Hence, Durga Puja is indicative of the salutation of Goddess Durga who is symbolic of all powers in the form of mercy, intelligence, and beauty. It is one of the major festivals in which God is adored as the Mother.
Piya Ganguly who has been a resident of USA highlights a different angle to Durga Puja and says, "During my USA stint, I realised that even a different country, miles away from our motherland can give a homely feel. Puja celebrations in the States is mainly held during weekends so that everyone gets the chance of equal involvement, participation, and contribution in the ceremonial activities. Apart from Matri bhog and pushpanjali, cultural programmes by notable singers and bands add five stars to the festivity. Lamps with small bulbs are lightened as lighting fire is not allowed. The most-loved sound of dhaak is played on the music system, since bringing dhakis here is a tough job."
"Products like bags made of jute and leather, sarees of various kinds, and junk jewellery are made available for purchase at the pujo pandals," she added.
The story behind Durga Puja marks the battle of Devi Durga with the very powerful demon buffalo Mahishasur. Emerging victorious in the battle with evil, Devi Durga epitomises the 'Motherly Power' symbolic of eternity and reverence, creating a remarkable history forever for mankind to worship.
Reminiscing the Durga Puja tales in Mauritius, Anindita Chakraborty says, "Half of the Mauritian population is of Indian origin with a mixture of people from Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. An impressive point, which deserves mention, is that all the priests carrying out the rituals and the devotees (Hindu Mauritians) are quite well versed with the mantras chanted during the puja. The zest to celebrate the festivity comes even more into prominence with their true devotion."
Purnamrita Mallick, resident of Denver in USA, says, "Durga Puja in the States mainly takes place during weekends and proves to be quite vibrant. The festival holds a lot of significance to non-residential Bengalis here as they get to inculcate into the minds of their younger ones, to preserve the unique cultural identity. A Bengali community named 'Milonee' organises the Durga Puja at Denver every year. This year, prominent Bengali singer Srikanto Acharya will be visiting Denver to enthral us all with his superlative performances during Puja."
Five days of this festival starting from Panchami to Dashami, which includes Shondhi Puja, pushpanjali, programmes, Darpan Visarjan, and Sindur Khela are the epitomes of well-being, merriment, and celebration of positivity. With tears rolling yet eyes full of hopes, post the immersion of Maa, like every year, every Bengali says out loud, "Asche bochor abar hobe."
A Bengali's love for Durga Puja is eternal and can never fizzle out.