Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mumbai Durga Pujas are as authentic as Kolkata's

The yearly calendar of any Bengali is divided into two parts -before Durga Puja and after Durga Puja. Kolkata and Bengalis are inextricably linked with this autumnal festival, which is holy for every resident of the city , irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. For the Bongs, Durga Puja isn't merely a religious festival. It is a celebration of life, culture, heritage and a way of rejoining with their roots.Mumbai has a heavy Bengali population that celebrates the festival of the Devi with equal ardour, but traditional bongs have often criticised it saying that no place besides the City of Joy can play a better host to Durga and her children. The Mumbai Probashis (non-Calcuttans), however, disagree and refute the claims of these purists by asserting how in the fast-paced city of dreams, they have brought back the authentic feel of Pujas sans its consumerist tinge and exhibitionist tendencies.HOMELY FARE
A Goregaon resident, Amit Banerjee tells us about his pada (colony) puja that is hosted at the local temple premises. “Ours is a homely Pujo.Bengali families from the area have been organising this carnival year on year. Our thakurmoshais (priests) make sure we follow all rituals of the festival correctly . The morning and evening aaratis are done diligently starting Panchami onwards (the fifth day of Pujas), all the way till Bhashan (the immersion of idols). The bhog too, is a family fare comprising classic dishes like khichuri (spiced moong dal khichdi), chorchori (mixed vegetable), bhajas (fried potatoes and brinjals), chutney and mishti (sandesh, rosogullas and sweet curd). Women of the community get together and guide the cooks with the family recipes. I love Kolkata but during Pujas, the city is a mess. It is crowded, noisy and the traffic is unbearable. I prefer Mumbai Pujas, where even in these 10 days, we can lead a normal life parallely,“ he says.
Eighty years ago, Mumbai saw its first Durga Puja in a small community hall in the heart of the city. Earlier, Pujas in Mumbai, were a rare phenomenon and was mostly conducted on a small scale in community halls.With more Bongs coming to the city in the last few decades, the number of Puja pandals has gone up to nearly 15. The sheer opulence of Puja pandals these days are indicative of the fact that Mumbai Bongs are ensuring that their Puja culture adapts to the standards set by their mother city .From hall pujas, the venue has shifted to sprawling grounds where the organising committee builds giant pandals. There is intricate detailing in the pandal designs with some made more inventively from materials like terracotta and shells. ETHINIC ARTISANS The artisans who make the idols are brought down from Kolkata and adjoining towns like Murshidabad, Malda and Midnapore. It is wellknown that Durga's murtis cannot be made without the clay from courtesan's home, which these artisans bring down from from Sonagachi (the biggest red-light area in Kolkata). The committees are falling back on the idea of bringing down a kumur (artisan), much like the bonidi families (aristocrats), to make the idols in Mumbai. Since the artisans are Pals from Kumartuli (a famous artisan area near the Ganges), the idols have the classic look -big eyes and a pleasantly plump face.
The city is not big on theme Pujas.Though some Mumbai pandals are gradually going that way , with one of them even replicating the look of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's building as the face of their pandal, committees mostly prefer not going that way . “We keep it minimalistic. Most Bengalis here prefer a basic puja over the pompous pandals with themed idols. We are aware that it is a big trend in Kolkata but we prefer keeping it a simple community affair here. Over the years, we have realised the simpler the celebration, the more the takers,“ says Abhirup Majumdar, organiser of a pandal in the suburbs.
Young Bengalis who've lived in Kolkata and swear by Maddox-er adda (a hit pandal in Kolkata) miss it sorely in the city . “It cannot be the same. The feeling of going to the same place year on year and having long conversations over chicken rolls, after being exhausted from relentless pandal-hopping, is a feeling that can't be replicated because of my lack of history here. Adda is a fundamental element in the spirit of pujo. Pujo adda is a concept Mumbai Bongs are fleetingly familiar with but have never lived it,“ says Tanu Ghosh, a management student in the city. But, the pandals in Mumbai are doing their best to rectify this minor flaw. At a pandal in Vashi, an empty stall is fashioned like baithak (seating area) with cushions and mattresses and has a board that reads `Adda', where people sit and chat, gorging on cultlets from the nearby stalls.

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