Colours of Dasara

When Maa comes visiting

In Bengal, the biggest festival is Durga Puja. Four days of frenzied festivity, culminating in the Bhashan (immersion ) on Vijaydashmi. Bengalis look forward, all year long, to these four days.

My own earliest memories of Durga Puja in Calcutta are from the 1970s when I was a child. By September, the intense heat recedes and a pleasant weather sets in. It is then that baboos and bibis gear up for the festival. The building of pandals normally would begin almost a month before the actual advent of Devi.

There has always been a Puja pandal right next to the house I grew up in on Kabir Road. The intimate setting of the Bengal United Club was perfect for us youngsters of the para (locality) to safely hang around all day not too far from the gaze of our elders.

When Maa comes visiting
 

I remember accompanying my mother every year for the Puja shopping. After that exciting outing came the mandatory visit to the tailor. Every locality in Calcutta then had a tailor shop since the ‘readymade’ concept had not taken over. Our master tailor was a thin bespectacled man, who while taking measurements would never fail to comment on how I had not grown as much as I should have and that I was probably not eating well. While it was an irritant to not measure up to his expectations, the thrill of getting new clothes far outweighed the man’s critical appraisal of my boyhood frame. Four sets of clothes for all four days of Durga puja!

Each day at the pandal was like parading in a fashion show. Everyone wore new clothes and commented on each other’s choice. Then came the mandatory discussion on the best pandals of the year.

The sound of the regal drum, Dhaak, heralds the arrival of Devi Durga. It would be played from the fourth or fifth day of Navratri. We kids would run to stand near the dhaakis to listen to those magical beats. Today, there is much hullabaloo around the dhaaki competitions, which are a good way to keep this drumming tradition alive. The drums are beautifully decorated with huge feathers and the dhaakis often dance around each other as they play. For those who have never seen this brilliant performance, I strongly recommend a visit to Kolkata during Durga puja.

When Maa comes visiting
 

Then there was and still is the mandatory loud speaker. In the 1970s and 80s, from early morning one would hear songs from puja albums of popular artistes such as R.D. Burman, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, aka the Bollywood brigade, and local artistes too.

The genres of these songs ranged from Rabindra Sangeet, folk and devotional to filmi tunes. What a fine variety of music was produced for puja in those days. It is sad that these songs have lost their sheen in a fast-changing, often confused music market. I hope that with the slow return of the vinyl, this tradition will be restored to its former glory.

Offering of flowers

Anjali on ashtami or the offering made to Devi has been one of my most beautiful memories. The whole para would congregate around the idol and offer flowers to the chanting of mantras by the pujari.

Then on nabami, we would savour the bhog. A brilliant vegetarian spread of mouth-watering dishes was laid out for the whole locality. The young would often first serve the elders and then sit down to eat, the aroma of food wafting through the street.

Finally would come Vijay Dashami, the day Maa’s visit would come to an end, sadly. As a child, I used to often cry at the sight of the pandal being brought down. It was a reminder of the ending of festivities and a return to the daily drudgery of our lives.

When Maa comes visiting
 

Maa would always leave with one final flourish — the roaring dhaaks, beautiful married women with sindoor in their hair (after the game of sindoor-sindoor khela) and the procession of Devi for immersion in the Ganges.

Durga Puja has created a timeless cultural identity for the Bengali. An identity that I will always carry with me. The vibrant echoes of the dhaak, the fragrance of Sharat kaal (season) and the beautiful Devi is around me again this year as I write this piece. I hope that you, the reader, can perceive some of the beauty of this culture through my musings. Ma Durge Durgatinashini is here to dispel all evil and bless us with happiness.

The writer is a well-known tabla artiste


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 6:16:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/when-maa-comes-visiting/article19770251.ece

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