Durga Puja: Celebrations beyond borders
Shomini Sen and Ananya Bhattacharya
When nostalgia strikes hard, the resonances are to be felt in the air; or that is what the general belief runs. Way back in 1981, a group of nostalgic non-resident Bengalis assembled themselves around an idea – the idea of replicating the sounds of dhak, the fragrant smoke of aarti, the clay protima and the ambience of a festival. The idea to celebrate Durga Puja five thousand miles away from the place that is abode to the festival. The seeds were sown, and what the festival has now been able to blossom into, is something that needs to be seen in order to be believed. The Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad in Glasgow has been at the helm of it for more than three decades now, and has stood the test of time.
The sight of the elaborately decorated Durga Puja pandal, the beats of the numerous Dhaks and the sounds of conch shells during the five day celebration plays a major role in uniting everybody at the Couper Institute in Glasgow. From Saptami to Bijaya Dashami, Bengalis in Glasgow have only one destination: The Clarkston Hall at the Couper Institute. Such is the magnetism of the celebrations that have been taking place in Glasgow for years now that Bengalis in particular and Indians in general travel across the length and breadth of Scotland to be a part of it.
Says Satarupa Panchanan, who has been travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow to be a spectator to this vibrant, mesmerising five-day-long extravaganza for three years now, “It is a unique feeling altogether. The only celebration of its kind in Scotland, the Durga Puja here holds a very special place in the heart of all Bengalis who are away from their families and country at this time of the year.”
The enthusiasm, the emotion and pride that marked the very first celebrations in Glasgow in 1981 continue to grow stronger with every passing year. The victory of good over evil and the message of peace and tranquillity in the world help in uniting everybody during the entire course of five days. From 1981 to 2012, after thirty long years, the footfall in the Puja Mandap has steadily multiplied over the years, so much so, that in 2011, there was hardly any space inside the hall during the Mahashtami anjali. Durga Puja in Scotland is a spectacle to behold now. And the Durga Puja Committee is leaving no stone unturned in creating a magnificent festival every year: a place where non-resident Bengalis do not feel the fact that they are away from home.
Even though Bangladesh has a predominant Muslim population, a Hindu festival like Durga Puja is celebrated with much fervor in the country. According to a 2007 report, Bangladesh has about 27,000 pujas celebrated across the country each year, of which 470 puja pandals are in Dhaka alone. The Hindu population, although a minority in the country, celebrates their most important festival with their Muslim brothers and sisters, and surprisingly, no conflict arises – only sense of being a Bengali prevails in the country during that time.
In the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi was the first to celebrate Durga Puja way back in the year 1985. In fact, Abu Dhabi was the first of UAE countries to host the much loved festival in the Desert Oasis. The first Puja was performed at a Bengali residence, but a few years later, the festivities were shifted to the Indian Social Club in Abu Dhabi. Being the first Puja in the gulf region, the celebration had Bengalis from all across UAE taking active interest to make the five day festival a success. But due to some intermittent reason, puja celebrations had to be discontinued from 1990. Years later, in 2007, a handful Bengalis living in Abu Dhabi formed an association called AUHBONGS and started the festival again, which continues till date.
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