We take our celebrations with us wherever we take our lives. It is a truth that has existed ever since civilisation came into being. Everyone who has ever migrated in this world has taken his customs with him, adapted and changed it and made a new custom of his own.
Whether it be the US or Australia, or Moscow, Indians have now reached far and wide – working hard and making their mark in foreign lands. And yet, they have maintained their customs and rituals. We have celebrated all our festivals across the world, bringing together communities settled in other countries and spreading the joys of the festival season.
Many miss what they have left behind, but they have brought the life and colour of their cultures back home to the new lands. Durga Puja or Navratras, they are both celebrated with pujas, artis and garba nights that are being held for many years now.
Devratti Bhattacharya, a professor who has stayed in Minnesota for more than ten years now said, “The only major difference here in Minnesota is that we don`t do the immersion at the end of the pujo days. The pandal is permanent, has its own space in the temple but is not open to public for the rest of the year. They cover it with a curtain. Rest is pretty much the same. There is a society, scheduled pujas, food and socializing. This is at the Hindu temple of Minnesota where we frequently go. Last year the Bengali student association at the University of Minnesota (where I work) started their own celebration. I think they created the murtis with neon rope lights.”
She also adds “Personally, I bake and cook a lot of sweets at home. Throw a dinner party around Diwali, decorate the house and buy presents for my boys (my husband and my son). I buy something for my kitchen every year too”
The celebrations not withstanding, Devratti said she missed some things about the durga pujas. “I think listening to dhakis (‘dhols’ as they are called in Haridwar) was my best memory about the pujas. My dad, who was Bengali and an atheist, went more for my mom`s sake than for religious reasons. My mom who, on the other hand, is a non Bengali was and is a true devotee and would make sure that we were there for the evening puja. Thus the dhakis and the whole ceremony are stamped in my mind.”
It is not just her. Chandrashekhar Singh who was studying in New Zealand and has now moved to Canada quipped, “Even though I was new in New Zealand and did not know many people around, I was pleasantly surprised to see how diligently people celebrate here. Obviously the atmosphere in India is very different, but people from all over the city come together to enjoy and share their enthusiasm during Navratras and Diwali”.
The fever pitch of the Navratra celebrations in India cannot be matched in any other country.
Abhishek and Richa Vyas who both work in Washington DC were reminiscing about the days they had back home in Jaipur. Richa quoted, “My favorite memory of Navratra is having regular pooja every evening, all the mandirs decorated and garba. Almost every night would be a dandia night around town. What I miss the most is watching Dusshera celebration, the huge 40-50 ft Ravans` being crumbled to the ground.”
The nostalgia value of the festivals was something that everyone staying abroad talks about. Kaushik Ghoshal, an IT specialist, was posted in Singapore two years ago. Being from a prominent para (neighbourhood) in Kolkata, he was actively involved in the Baroyari pujo committee in his locality. “Here the pujas are quite a big affair. The community has been celebrating since the late 1960’s. But shopping for kids, eating out every night, pandal hopping and having all the friends and family around, I miss that the most,” he said.
Arnab Ray, a well known Indian blogger who resides in Washington responded, "I don't really celebrate Durga Puja myself since I am not part of any Bengali associations. The most we would do is to perhaps go to one of the local Pujos for an hour or so. That's about it. What I miss about Calcutta during Durga Puja? I miss my friends. I miss the past. I miss myself."
Richa also had something similar talking about how they celebrate Navratras. “In America, usually the local communities host Diwali mela, to enjoy the feel of the ‘Desh` but nothing comes close to it. Personally, I prefer to live with all the memories I grew up with rather than ruining my image of Diwali and Dusshera by comparing it to any other place but India.”
Taking your culture with you and keeping it alive is definitely a task for these Indians who have gone there to study or make a living. They get together every year marking these few days as their own where they bring back memories of their own to the table, dance and make merry with the people around.
Once a year they bring out all the Indian-ness and spread the joys around the world.
Spreading the festivities of Navratra and the blessings of the devi while they have their homeland in their hearts!