Durga Puja is one occasion, when every Bengali, irrespective of caste, creedor even religion, gets immersed in the festive fervour. For the expatriate or Prabashi Bengalis, it becomes almost impossible to resist the temptation to go home and spend the festive days with family and friends. However, no matter how much we plan, for some, the visit remains elusive and we start planning for the next year ahead.
|Goddess Durga at Rakhi Sangha, Sonai Road. Photo Courtesy: Dainik Jugasankha|
This time too, many of my friends have failed to make that annual sojourn home during the Pujas. They are basking in nostalgia and trying to relive those golden Pujas spent back home in Silchar in the past years through old photographs, music and some adda sessions with friends. So, for all those who have missed out on a trip back home this year; let us try to refresh the memories of the Pujas, spent memorably with friends and family members in the years bygone.
The greatest quality that defines the Durga Puja in Silchar and other parts of Barak Valley is the festive atmosphere all around. You don’t have to visit a pandal to feel the fervour. Wherever you go, the sound of the dhakis or the evergreen Bengali classics sung by Kishore Kumar will remind you of the festivities. Thousands of happy faces, adorned in new clothing, will further add to the frolic. The evenings would be absolutely chaotic, but festive happiness and fun would give a certain shape and rhythm to the chaos.
With the passage of time, especially in the last couple of decades, Durga Puja in Silchar has become rather Kolkatasque in its magnitude. High budget pandals, innovatively lit and decorated have become the main attractions of the Pujas. Therefore, at least one visit to Tarun Club, Rakhi Sangha, Ananda Parishad, Public School Road, the Pujas around the Tarapur Railway station are an absolute must. However, many old timers do miss the more intimate nature of the Pujas in the earlier decades.
Pandal hopping would always be the biggest priority, especially for those who are not involved with any particular puja committee. I remember, walking down with my friends, from Sonai Road to Tarapur Rice Mill and yet have some energy left to spend the rest of the night in our ‘parar puja’.
|A crowded Central Road on Maha Shasthi. Photo Courtesy: Dainik Prantojyoti|
Music is another very important part of the celebrations. There are some Bengali classics especially sung by Kishore Kumar and Kumar Sanu which have to be played every year almost as religiously as the Chandi Path. ‘Keno tumi aamake je eto bhalobasho’, ‘Priyotoma mone rekho’ are some of them. In the last few years, some albums have made the Durga Puja of that particular year, their own. Tomar Dekha Nai by Bhoomi, Gainjar chirol chirol by Bidhan Laskar and Chol Gori by Krishamoni Chutia are some examples. Sure these songs may not please the purists but they did catch the festive imagination of the masses.
Good food is another important ingredient for the celebrations. Bhog Prasad, especially at Ramkrishna Mission is always a big draw, but the continuous satisfaction of the taste buds have to be ensured by having chop, chaat, phuchka etc from the innumerable street vendors. In the last few years, many restaurants have also sprung up in different parts of the town. They have proved to be a boon for young couples, who would otherwise, find it difficult to have quiet day together, in the crowded allays of the town. However, these eateries also conveniently increase the price and restrict the menu to make high profits. Amrit Sweets, Send off were few eateries which were popular with youngsters in the nineties. Then, restaurants like Sreyashi, Hasty Tasty etc came into the picture and provided more gastronmical options to the revellers.
On the fashion front, Silchar did not score very highly initially. Tacky and mismatched outfits would not be very difficult to notice on the streets. In comparison to the nearby hill stations like Shillong or the bigger cities like Guwahati, the fashion sense did leave a lot to be desired from the point of view of modernity or sophistication. But those loud colours did display enthusiasm and energy, unmatched with any other corner of the world.
|A Puja Pandal in Hailakandi. Photo Courtesy: Dainik Prantojyoti|
Finally, Dashami would bring a sad end to the festival. The procession of the idols through the streets of the town still remains etched in all our memories. There are some friends, now married and settled in plush jobs in different parts of the world, who used to be permanent fixtures in the dance troupes of their neighbourhood pandals. May be, new blood has replaced them now, but we still search for those familiar faces whenever we think of the Dashami processions.
Another important activity that precedes all Pujas in Silchar is the patchwork on the streets. The PWD suddenly swings into action to repair the dilapidated roads almost to suggest that the Goddess is going to carry out an inspection. The power department also promises that there would be no load shedding during the four days of the Pujas as if it is not their responsibility to provide uninterrupted power in the rest of the year.
Durga Puja, today is more a social celebration, than a religious festival. My memories, as expressed above have mostly highlighted the celebrations rather than the rituals. However, it must be said that offering Pushpanjali, at least on one of the days, always remained an important part of the agenda. As we all grow up and even step into the stage of parenthood, let us resolve to teach the younger generation about the religious significance of the Pujas as well, so that the occasion does not degenerate into a mere party full of revellers.
Last but certainly not the least, let us all promise to Mother Goddess that next year, we shall all be there in Silchar, right from the day of Mahalaya, at the Sadarghat bridge, to welcome her to our town and bask in the fun and frolic of the celebrations. Wishing you all a very happy Durga Puja.....