Bridging communities together

BY PURVI RADIA | NT NETWORK

The sounds of rhythmic beating of special drum known as ‘Dhak’, ‘Kamsar’, a brass metallic plate bitten with stick and the chanting of mantras apprises of the Durga puja, the most happening festival of the Bengali community.

Now, this festival has become part of Goans too. Their participation is seen in cultural dance, pujas; be it Muslims or Goan Hindus they enjoy to the fullest. Goans have sung in Bengali and Bengali’s have sung in Konkani. The coming of different festivals in the state leads to amalgamation.

The Bengali associations in Panaji, Mapusa, Margao, Banastari, BITS Pilani, Sanguem and the oldest in Vasco every year get together to celebrate ‘Durga Puja’. Though, they are unable to travel every time to Kolkata, the associations have maintained the religious aspect of the festival. Along with this there are socio-cultural activities depicting the Bengali culture.

The president of the Bengali Cultural Association (BCA), Panaji, Mr G C Bhattacharya who had come down to Goa in the year 1973 could easily adjust with the Goans. However, the long distance travel to Vasco every time made it impossible. This brought together like-minded people to form this association in Panaji that came into being in the year 1981.

Every year travelling to Kolkata is unfeasible to most settle in Goa. So they created the ambience almost similar to Kolkata, where the religious aspect is strictly maintained. This gives the feeling of home.

This year the festival began from October 13 and will culminate on the Dussehra day on October 17.

Says Mr Bhattacharya, “Though, children miss the Sarvajanik Durga idol in Kolkata that enthrals people because of its minute work on the pandal and idol, also the food culture, the euphoria. Every year we get artisans and even the clay from Kolkata to make the Durga idol here. Apart from this, we even get the artist to play ‘Dhak’ and ‘Kamsar’ from Kolkata.”

Similar to Kolkata, where the sarvajanik Durga becomes the reason to close the doors of kitchen, in Goa too Bengali women get freedom from cooking. “During the day time the vegetarian ‘bhog’ offered to Goddess comprising of Khichdi (semi-solid mixture of rice and dal), tomato chutney, sweet tomato chutney, ‘payesh’ (made from rice and milk) and papad. This is then served to all devotees. Earlier we served on talpatri but since it generated lots of waste, we now serve them in steel or melamine plates. In the evening, it’s the sweets and fruits served to Goddess,” said one of the members of BCA, Dr Kasturi Desai.

As a social aspect, married women visit maternal mother exchange good wishes and gifts. This marks the arrival of Goddess Durga along with her four children- Lord Ganesh, the ‘Siddhidata’ or the starter of everything in good sense, Kartik, the God of beauty as well as warfare, Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge to her mother’s house. However, the real mythological reason behind the celebration is to commemorate the victory over evil by killing the demon Mahishasura.

The festival is sensed with spurt of fanfare, where Bengalis purchase new costumes, shoes and the gifts exchanged are also dresses. “In the midst of the celebration, is the auspicious puja known as ‘Sandhi puja’ performed between Ashtami and Navami. It’s a one hour special puja where in 108 lotus, bel leaves and lamps are lit to show the joy over evil,” explained Dr Desai, who had come to Goa in the year 1969.

The Bengalis although based in Goa do not deviate from religious ceremonies. Says, Dr Desai, “On Shashthi, while mothers hold fast, the gents do not. The fathers have food but preferably vegetarian. Women dress in silk white saris with red border, a traditional wear. On the other days of the puja Bengalis can even have non-vegetarian food in their meal.”

Bengalis associated in various professions such as scientist, engineers, professors, industrial estates find time when it comes to Durga puja. On the last day, that is Dashmi, curd and flat rice (pohe) is served to Goddess and married women get along to play ‘sindhur khel’. Women, besides putting on the head apply it on the face too. It’s a game played with women.

In the evening, the idol is immersed. After the immersion, younger ones touch the feet of the elders and the elders embrace each other. Water is sprinkled as a ‘shanti jal’ on everybody and sweets are exchanged.

For one of the entertainment in charge, Goa Banga Samiti, Vasco, Ms Manisha Banerjee, it’s been 44 years for a Punjabi woman in Goa since she married to a Bengali. She finds the Bengali culture very fascinating as it bridges various cultures. She enjoys celebrating Durga puja and also being part of the activities. “I enjoy partaking in the planning for the activities before the month” says Ms Banerjee.

Pandals may not be there in Goa, but the religious aspect will continue to remain the same.