It was the all important “Ashtami” day of the Durga Puja celebrations on Saturday. The strains of melodious Rabindra Sangeet accompanied by the tantalising aroma of fish fry drew large crowds to the towering pandal of the B-Block Durga Puja Samity at Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi.
CR Park is also popularly known as the “mini Bengal of Delhi.”
At the entrance of the Puja pandal, towards the right a music competition was in progress where a rapt audience was listening to the competitors belting out popular Bengali numbers, while towards the left the last anjali of the day was taking place in front of the grand idol of the Goddess. The sounds of Bengali music interspersed by echoes of anjali were soothing to the ears. A large number of cultural programmes encompassing dance, music and drama have been organised.
“Over the years we have witnessed immense change in the Durga Puja celebrations which we have been organising for the past 35 years,” says Ashim Banerjee, president of the B-Block Durga Puja Samity. “Where at one time Rs.5,000 would have been enough to conduct the Puja, the amount has now gone up to Rs.30 lakh. There is a change in the amount of money spent, the scale of grandeur, entertainment and food. We have to spend extra on security measures,” he adds.
Owing to the recession, the organisers were forced to slash their budget by almost 30 per cent this year.
According to Mr. Banerjee, traditional Bengali dishes such as khichuri, chutni and paayesh which comprises the bhog is served to nearly 4,000 people on the three main days of the Puja.
At the Puja pandal on the Corporate Ground, two serpentine lines of people were getting ready to eat bhog. The organisers of the Corporate Ground Puja pride themselves on the theme-based Puja which they organise every year. This year too, the Puja pandal is an impressive one designed along the lines of a cave with special lighting. Corporate Grounds Durga Puja Samity organiser Samir Datta says: “Labourers from Kolkata were brought in to design the idols. The mud used to forge the idols is from Banaras. It takes about three-four months of preparation time to organise a Puja on a large scale.”
The Durga Puja celebrations are patronised by Bengali and non-Bengalis alike. Navapalli Puja Samity additional general secretary S. Mukherjee says: “Durga puja does not belong to the Bengalis alone anymore. It belongs to all. It has become a cosmopolitan affair.”
Conceding to the role of commercialisation of the Pujas, Navapalli Puja Samity president Utpal Ghosh rationalises that it is a two-way street. “We get funds and the corporate houses get publicity,” he explains.
“When the immersion of the Goddess takes place on the final day of the Pujas, we feel lost,” confesses Mr. Ghosh, expressing concern that the current generation is too caught up in its own affairs to devote much time for organising the Pujas. Yet he expresses hope saying, “It is a cycle. Somebody always takes over.”
Outside the pandals too, clusters of well turned out people mill about, laughing and gossiping. On the sidewalk, groups of people zestfully dig into plates of Bengali-style fast food being sold at small shops.
The festive buzz is unmistakable, yet the pace of activity is rather laidback, almost as if people have borrowed a few hours from their hectic schedules to leisurely stroll the pandals, consume some good food, bond with friends and family and, of course, pay their obeisance to Goddess Durga.