The grand pandals are back. Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s rendition of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ lyrics at the dawn of Mahalaya fills the air as magnificent idols of Durga await, bedecked in all their finery. Bengalis in the city are all set to throng the pandals and offer pushpanjali dressed in new clothes, feast on prasad and bhog, and enjoy live cultural programmes in the evening.
Bengal associations in Chennai have been preparing to host a grand Durga Puja for months. Bhaskar Sain, vice president of South Madras Cultural Association (SMCA) says, "Besant Nagar hosts the largest puja in Chennai. While this time our location has shifted, we are expecting a large footfall. Usually, we have around 30 to 40 food stalls, while this year, we are having 50 food and corporate stalls."
Mukul Dasgupta, a member of the governing body of Dakshini Society in Anna Nagar, says, “There is more excitement this year, and the number of members has increased. They have been busy with daily rehearsals for cultural programmes for the past two months.”
Subir K Shaw, secretary of Dakshini Society, says, "Our six-feet Durga idol will be in a traditional dhaker saaj [made of silver foil and sequins]. We are inviting a drummer and priest from Kolkata. The Anandomela will feature home-cooked savories and sweets. There will be around 10 stalls as part of the festivities. On Navami, a Chennai-based artist will be performing for our members."
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Bhaskar adds, “Our Durga idol will be over 12 feet tall. Celebrations will begin from Panchami with Anandomela, which will be open for all. We plan to invite a Bengaluru-based Bengali band and renowned local Bengali singers to perform for us. During the day, we will have several competitions such as drawing, singing, among others.”
The Dakshin Chennai Prabasi Cultural Association (DCPCA) too plans to install a 12 feet-tall Durga idol done up in traditional Bengali garb. Says Jaypal Menon, the secretary, “Ours is a young brigade of multicultural members who have a strong connection to Kolkata.”
Durga Puja is incomplete without traditional khichudi bhog and chicken rolls in the evening. In keeping with its 44-year-old tradition, the SMCA will be offering khichudi bhog to all devotees free of cost. "We have roped in Kolkata's Khas Khabar this time," says Bhaskar.
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Meanwhile, the Dakshini Society will be serving bhog only for its members. "This will include luchi, aloo tarkari, khichudi, and payesh. The menu will change every day. After visarjan, we will serve have non vegetarian food such as khasir maanso (mutton curry) and macher jhol (fish curry). Guests will be able to enjoy Bengali delicacies such as biryani and chicken kosha from our stalls in the evening. We have already roped in a few Chennai-based Bengali restaurants and are in talks with some Kolkata-based restaurants," says Subir.
Jaypal says that the DCPA has invited Kolkata-based cooks to give guests a taste of Bengali cuisine. “There will be aloo bhaja, beguni and pyiaanji and a variety of sweets,” he adds. The associations will be taking precautionary measures such as urging people to wear masks.