What Durga Pujo means to a Bengali?
The raison d’être of this article that it sets out to achieve and consequently narrate is so enmeshed in multiple layers of consciousness and meanings that the entire point of penning this piece is in danger of portraying a biased outlook on an issue that is, honestly speaking, more than an issue to the writer himself. If you are still trying to figure out what the hell the writer is talking about all you need do is cast a fleeting glance over the title of this article as well as the name of the author who penned it. And bingo!!! A Bengali writer trying to wax eloquent over the single most spot of prominence that a Bengali almanac can possibly dish up to anyone. Crammed with festivity of every sort it is humorously said that Bengalis have thirteen (13) festivals in their religious calendar, which incidentally has only twelve months! However, the present article endeavors to concern itself with the biggest, the most significant and the mother of all festivals that Bengalis do enjoy that is “Durga Puja” or “Durga Pujo”. But this article is not an attempt to chronicle the convivial merrymaking in which all Bengalis do seem to revel during the Puja/Pujo in a year in year out manner. Rather it will delve deep into this mare’s nest with the hope of finding out “what does Durga Pujo actually mean to him or her”.
What does Puja mean to him? Does it mean anything at all to her? Does it contrarily mean everything to him? Or can it at all be understood by remaining within the confines of a “meaning”? Is it then a feeling only? Or a sentient, I presume. If it is a feeling then how is it different from others? Or is it an expression then of something bigger which cannot be penned but realized from within? Or is it a sign of something else? A symbol may be then. It may be symbolizing a synergy of some things. Or is it a thought then that recurs to our life once in twelve months? Does it revolve us with an orbital duration of 365 days or do “We” revolve around this “thing” with a recurring span of 12 months? Does it happen to us or we happen to it? Why the sky suddenly seems heavenly blue? Why the smell of air suddenly seems extra refreshing? Why the river seems to meander to a new tune? Why the sight of a dewdrop on the top of a flower makes a refreshing impact on a Bengali mind especially in a specific time of the year?
Can we find answers to all these questions? Let’s make an honest effort.
The essence of Durga Puja is fundamentally connected with one of the greatest intangibles of our human existence: that is the sense of joy, the spontaneous outpouring of joviality. The sheer imponderables associated with the sense of “joie de vivre” in this regard make it incredibly hard to dissect and dwell on. However, the grandiose extravagance and the material varying opulence so inalienable a part of this unique festival come subtly packaged with differing purposes of meaning to each and every individual. Yes, we all enjoy the occasion but our enjoyment is conditioned and coloured with hues and shades of reason and purpose. Let me explain. For someone who is coming back to his home - after staying abroad for a long time - during this auspicious time of the year the enjoyment assumes an added, undeniable sharpness and intensity both for the person and the persons with whom he/she is going to unite. The invocation and worship of the goddess assumes a totally different dimension to those who have the luxury and tradition of celebrating it within their house/family as many families in Bengal are blessed with the rich tradition of celebrating the Pujo within the four walls of their own house. Words will fall short to describe the sheer sense of collective joy that only the members of those families feel privileged to experience. Perhaps more than a collective sense of joy it’s going back to the roots for them, a sort of way to pay their respective respects to the age-old and unwritten canons of tradition of their own bigger family. For those expatriate Bengalis it is an opportunity to indulge not only in mirth and rituals but also to feel nostalgic about those halcyon childhood days spent all the way back in Bengal. For someone who is just a part of any Pujo Committee the mere sense of being involved in the whole process is enough of a dividend to him. For someone it is an affirmation and strengthening of the state of being a Bengali since this is the quintessential festival of the Bengali community. For them it is a beautiful coalescence, a meeting of many strands of existence woven into a common joyous form.
However, there are some sections of people even among Bengalis whose sense of joy have mixed commercial overtones. It may be hugely disturbing as well as controversial to drag the notion of trade and commerce into something which is meant to celebrate our sense of aestheticism. It is to be noted right here that I do not doubt their aesthetic commitment towards the cause of Puja. Rather these sections of people are the ones who metamorphose this cult of goddess into an exercise of artistic expression. I am talking about all those sculptors, the skilled artisans, the expert craftsmen, the master electricians who all contribute so heavily into this extravaganza of religion, culture, artistry and camaraderie. However, since these people also make a living out of doing things mentioned just above the commercial aspect of this entire thing cannot be sidestepped. And in these cases the sense of joy while giving way to a definite shape of artistic expression (sculpturing for example) still assumes a slightly nuanced implication that is better left unsaid.
I have endeavoured to make readers understand what Puja means and brings to a Bengali. However, as I said in the second paragraph of this piece that any attempt to capture the essence of Pujo is futile in itself since the essence in question outgrows the meaning. If anything it is an expression of many strands of divinity and humanity all symbiotically rolled and woven into one. It is an expression of something bigger, something unexplained, something inexplicable which can only be felt and realized but cannot be penned or given concrete shape through mere words. The Pujo happens every year but it does not fail to capture our heart, our imagination, our longing and our undivided devotion. The entire experience is actually an uncanny sense of déjà vu in its purest form. And precisely herein remains the divine charm of beatitude that the entire episode so beautifully encapsulates.
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