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Durga Puja After Two Decades

Saurabh Sengupta

Saurabh Sengupta

By Nirmalya Ghosh

HOUSTON: Coming back to Houston to see the Durga Puja after two decades has been a revealing experience for me. As a graduate from IIT Kharagpur, I came down to Houston the “oil capital of the world” on United Nations Fellowship. After completing doctoral studies, I left for Pune, India in 1991 on a promising assignment.

Bengali community across the globe worships Goddess Durga. In those days Durga Puja was held in the church and later in the Gandhi Community Centre and selected Houston residents were requested to prepare khichuri, vegetables, mishti and payesh, it was then pooled together and distributed to all Bengalis not only from Houston but from Austin, College Station, Baton Rouge etc. who attended the Puja. It was more of a limited community social get together and religious worship of Maa Durga. There were a few games for the children in the afternoon and not much of evening activities.

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I visited Houston again in 2013 after a gap of almost 22 years. From day one, the warmth made us feel at home. We witnessed Durga Puja celebration at Houston Durgabari and Vedanta Society for two years (2014 and 2016). It is a home away from my home country because of so many friends and acquaintances.

In this time gap, I was amazed to see the growth of the community and the construction of Durga bari. It is an honour for Houston to have this pratishthan. When Durga Puja of Houston was awarded the first prize by Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2015, I was overwhelmed. Houston Durga puja today is celebrated with a lot of grandeur.

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One feels proud when the whole community is so vibrant and holds on to the culture staying so far away from the motherland. The cultural program put up by the local talents of all age groups was very entertaining and well-choreographed. It was amazing to witness the children dressed up in dhoti and ladies in sari playing Dhak and Dhol almost to perfection in front of Maa Durga.

Being involved in Pune’s Durga Puja and enjoying the volunteer activities gives me unique perspective. In Houston too, we were fortunate enough to volunteer our services once for cutting of fruits and distribution of Prasad. The religious rituals were elaborate and so meticulously performed by the priests.

Food plays an important role in the Durga Puja festival. The bhog in the afternoon and chicken rezalla, mutton curry etc. served for dinner were really delicious and the mishti and chatni went really well with them. What was appealing and praise worthy was that the food was prepared in house, by a team of dedicated persons, and our appreciation goes to all. The fish fry and mashla muri sold at Houston Durga Puja, was really delicious and a star attraction to all of us. Our sincere thanks to the canteen team who prepared it so tasty. I only remember to have had similar mashla muri outside west Bengal at singer Abhijit Bhattacharya’s Durga Puja at Lokhandwala, Mumbai.

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Durga puja is not only a religious program; it is a social festival too. To me, another star attraction was the promotion of budding and young Bengali singers from India.

We got the opportunity to talk to Imon Chakrabarty and Durnibar Saha who we have been watching on TV. We certainly miss this in Pune and other areas outside Bengal during the festival time. The concept of sari, dress, jewelry, pickle, insurance company, website promotion stalls at the Durga Puja mandap is something new compared to that in India, where it is more of gastronomic food and less of saris and jewelry.

It was indeed an occasion for revival and rejuvenation for us. The transportation arrangement from the parking lot to the venue would have been better served if sun shade could have been provided for the devotees at Durga Bari. I would love to visit the unique Houston Durga Puja every year and be a part of it. In my opinion, the Puja of this magnitude was well managed from Puja- Bhog- Dinner- Cultural events- Exhibition etc. and credit goes to the team.

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