Durga Bari Celebrates Durga Puja in Style Despite Inclement Weather

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Photos: Saurabh Sen Gupta

By Sanchali Basu

HOUSTON: No amount of rain could dampen the spirits of the local Bengali community in celebrating the Annual Durga Puja which everyone looks forward to the whole year. The Puja is normally celebrated over 10 days in Bengal, beginning on Mahalaya with the invocation of the goddess Mother Durga and continues on with the Bengali calendar tithis, Shashthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashami. The festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Vijaya Dashami is celebrated as Dussehra in other parts of India and the  nine days of festivities are celebrated as Navratri in western India. The Durga Puja festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil.

In India, some of these days are observed as public holidays and people get to enjoy this time with family and friends. In the United States, due to time constraints, the Puja ceremony is condensed over a weekend in most places. We in Houston, are spoilt with the Durgabari being around, and get to celebrate the Durga Puja in the traditional way over 5 days, on the proper Tithis, and additionally over the weekend for the office-goers if the Tithis don’t happen to coincide with the weekend. This year happened to be one of those years.

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Mahalaya on October 11 started with the musical rendition of Mahishasur Mardini followed by Anandamela (fund-raising for the temple with food stalls selling Bengali culinary delicacies), fashion show, skit and excellent recitation by invited artist from Kolkata, Debasish Chakraborty.

Surprisingly, even on a weekday morning, Ashtami tithi celebrations had about 500 people in attendance, which began with Chandipath in the morning, followed by Puja, Pushpanjali, Arati and Bhog lunch, and Sandhyarati in the evening, as is the normal sequence of events daily during the Puja. Presumably, people had caught wind of the weather forecast over the weekend and did not want to take a chance. An integral and important part of Durga Puja, Sandhi Puja which is performed  at the juncture of Ashtami and Nabami, when Durga is worshipped in her Chamunda form, also kept a lot of devotees in the temple until almost midnight

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The Puja was celebrated all over again beginning Oct 22 with Amantran and Adhibas and the evening entertainment was provided by guest artist from Kolkata, Shampa Kundu who had a repertoire of Rabindra Sangeet, modern Bengali songs and even medleys of Bengali-Hindi songs and kept the audience glued till almost 1 AM on a week night. Bhoomi (Bangla Band) was accompanied by Lakshman Das Baul on Friday and featured an array of popular folk song hits. Local singers also showed their talent and flash mob dancers entertained people while they were waiting patiently in the food distribution line.

Despite the heavy rains hitting the Houston area on Saturday and Sunday, the organizers had a well thought out plan of action. The temple was closed early on Saturday, local programs were deferred to Kali Puja and Debojit Saha, Bollywood singer, one time winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa was brought on stage in the afternoon.  He brought out the wild side of the audience with his renditions of popular Bollywood numbers from yester years to the present and also delivered some Bengali popular Kishore Kumar songs. He came down from the stage to dance with the delighted screaming, dancing audience and mingled with them lapping up every bit of the adulation and fan-frenzy. He was very ably supported by the extremely talented Swagata Dey (vocals), and  Kutti (keyboard).

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Oct 25, Bijoya Dashami day bittersweet, with the immersion of the Naba Patrika and Bisarjan, and Sindoor Khela (married women anointing one another with vermilion signifying the departure of the goddess to her in-laws’ abode) and distribution of sweets, brought the Durga puja celebrations to a close.

The sari, jewelry, book stalls, the blowing of conch shells (shankha), rhythmic beats of the drums (dhaak), fish fry stalls and loudspeakers blaring popular songs were all very reminiscent of the Puja atmosphere back home. Thanks to the able leadership of Santanu Mukhopadhyay, Puja committee chair, the Bayou city with its seamless execution of the Puja lived up to its reputation of being able to cope under difficult circumstances. Please visit www.durgabari.org for upcoming events, namely Kali Puja.