October 8th, 2011
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Durga Pujas – When Contradictions Come Alive



Kisholoy Mukherjee

Kisholoy MukherjeeTo many Bengalis, Durga Puja is a time to celebrate and have lots of fun. It is that time of the year when tradition, religion, sentiments and excitement all merge together. The cultural background is intricately interwoven with the upper caste Hindu society, not just because the mantras are meant to be uttered by a Brahmin pandit only. The very first Autumnal celebration of this festival was organized by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of Shovabazar (in Kolkata) to honor and congratulate Lord Clive for his victory in the battle of Plassey. In fact, the pujas in those days were almost entirely dedicated to the British rulers, oftentimes with some of them being the guests of honor!

Such is the background of the pujas. There is objectionable content even in the mythological background, which depicts the goddess Durga as coming home with her children to her parents’ home, and the Bhashan or the Bishorjon during Doshomi which means that she is going back to her husband, Shiva. Undeniably, the patriarchal nature of the Hindu society is quite apparent in the mythological background.
But the burgeo middle class, who have taken over the responsibility of carrying on with this tradition from the earlier zamindars or landlords (who nonetheless still carry on with this tradition, only they have become fewer in number) celebrate this puja in the guise of it being a “sarbojonin” festival, meaning all encompassing. Even a casual glance at the crowd that gathers on the streets and near the “pandals” (the temporary structures that house the idols of the goddess and her children along with some decorations) is enough to prove the theory of inclusiveness wrong.

Just how much inequality is there in the society will become quite clear when the stark contrasts between the affluent upper caste Hindus and the lower castes (almost invariably poor, excepting some “creamy layer” ones) is noticed. And it doesn’t need to be reiterated that the money that is spent during the pujas, not only for the festival itself but also for the “celebrations” (including but not limited to buying costly food and dresses, going on vacations etc.) is something that only the rich and middle classes can afford. And yet, in popular public discourse, it is said that the pujas are a time for happiness. Well, it most certainly is not for the overwhelming majority.

Even the political parties have not failed to latch on to this tradition to use it to their advantage. The ruling party in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress, has been doing it quite blatantly. The chief minister of the state was even noticed to be present at some function related to the festival in the state. Of course gaining political mileage out of festivals is not a monopoly of any party! Raising “chanda” (the cuter name for extorting money) is a widely common practice. Needless to say, much of this money is spent behind liquors and other “earthly pleasures” of the party workers!

Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that the pujas are a time for the rich upper classes to celebrate the fact that they belong to such privileged and advantageous sections of the society!

5 Responses to “ Durga Pujas – When Contradictions Come Alive ”

  1. Kisholoy

    As has been pointed out to me, there is an error in the statement that Raja Nabakrishna Deb was the first to organize the autumnal festival. In fact, it was the revivalist celebration of the pujas that can be traced back to 1757 when the aforementioned king honored Lord Clive for his victory in the Battle of Plassey.

  2. Suman

    An article good enough to ornate a trash can only.

  3. bhuban

    Execrable to say the least.

  4. nalanz

    revealing and insightful…

  5. nishnat biswas

    Well, the puja belongs to all….. not only the rich, but also the poor, irrespective of the amount the people can spend. whatsoever, it is a good article


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