Whether Durga Puja has evolved for the better remains a disputed issue among Bengalis

As five days of Durga Puja celebrations come to an end and Bengalis across the city bid goodbye to their beloved goddess, it's time to objectively assess if, over the years, pujas have become a commercial venture. Has tradition been sacrificed for entertainment?

Pujas held on a large scale are often associated with entertainment and food stalls. Take the example of the one organised at Palace Grounds by the Bengalee Association. The crowds flocked more towards the food stalls and less towards the idol, which was relegated to a tiny corner of the pandal.

Food stalls

Runu Roy, one of the organisers, says puja is given equal importance as the cultural programmes. She, however, admits that the food stalls are a major attraction.

Anand, a student, finds nothing wrong with this trend. “Religious festivals aren't merely about rituals. They're also a social event. I, personally, look forward to the fun and the festivities.”

Cultural vs. religious

Anusuya, a teacher at Mallya Aditi International School, doesn't agree that pujas have been commercialised.

“I don't see much difference in celebrations from when I was a child. What has increased is the level of festivities in terms of food. The cultural programmes aren't any different from what I've seen as a child. Even today, crowds gather to watch the ‘arati'. There are groups of people who focus on the puja while others concentrate on the cultural aspect, which is acceptable,” she says.

Crowd-pullers

D.P. Sengupta, a prominent city-based scientist, says commercialisation of cultural programmes is understandable, but regrets that the “spirit of Puja is lost”.

“Puja celebrations everywhere have become more of a social celebration and less of a religious affair. When I came to Bangalore 40 years ago, there were fewer Bengalis and, hence, fewer pandals. The festivities were simple. I was deeply disappointed with the pujas held at Palace Grounds. Though I'm not a religious person, I was disturbed to find the idol placed in a small corner. Pujas are organised by event managers who do a good job at crowd management… But the spirit of puja has, by and large, been lost,” he says.

Times change

Manna Dey, one of West Bengal's most respected artistes, contends that one must accept the changes that come with time. “It's a fact that entertainment is given precedence over puja. I've stopped visiting puja pandals. And it isn't as if the pujas in Kolkata are any better. There's no point in getting angry; we just have to accept these changes.”

It should be borne in mind that while the pujas organised on a larger scale find more mention in the media, there are other, smaller ones that still follow the traditional path.