By Manju Latha Kalanidhi, Sanath Prasad and Vijayalakshmi Sridhar
Every year, during the auspicious Navratri Pujo time, mini Kolkatas spring up in cities across the country. Even though festivities last barely five days, the Bengalis in metros outside of Kolkata usher in the vibes of the City of Joy in their own style in their cities. Be it the talk of Mahalaya, dancing to the rhythmic beat of dhak or swaying in bliss while performing the Dhunuchi Naach, the Bengalis recreate their hometown in the cities they live. We talk to the old and famous Bengali associations in cities to find out more.
Hyderabad Bangalee Samity, the grand 75-year-old Bengali association in Lower Tank Bund Road in the city, is gearing up for a socially-distanced Durga Pujo. Till 2019, the Samity used to host five days of festivities with a budget of Rs 50 lakh in a grand auditorium with footfalls touching 10,000. This year, they are allowing just 25 people at the Durga pandal to be set up in the Samity’s auditorium. “We used to feed over 40,000 people the previous years. This year, only about 2,000 members may get to taste the bhog, that too packed in takeaway bento boxes. We will host a few Rabindra Sangeet concerts via Zoom and Facebook Live.
This is the only way to reach the eight lakh Bengalis residing in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad,” says Sumit Sen, General Secretary of the Samity. Interestingly, Amantran, the Bengali canteen run by the Samity, is available 24x7 on food delivery platform for non-members for order. “Khichdi, chutney, paayash, pulav and aloor dum will be available for order,” he says. This time the Durga idol is about six feet tall compared to the 40-foot ones the previous years.
The Bangiya Sanskritik Sangha, Padmarao Nagar in Secunderabad, is celebrating its 55th Durga Pujo this year. Unlike the other associations, they are celebrating it ‘live’ at Mahboob College campus in Patny Centre till October 15. “We also invite non-Bengalis to our Sarvajanik Utsav as we want everyone to taste a little bit of Kolkata. Due to restrictions, we are not serving meals like we did the last few years. Instead, we have food stalls serving kathi rolls, jal puchka, khichdi, begun bhajiya. On the cultural front, we have a jatra concert and some talent shows for kids,” says vice president Abhijit Bhattacharjee.
The 92-year-old Bengal Association in Chennai is getting ready for its 88th year of celebrations, which will run from October 11 till 15, and will be primarily online. The idol will be installed at the venue by Panchami. The association is still figuring out the logistics around getting cooks from Kolkata to organise the bhog that will be delivered home to the participants. Though 50 percent capacity of audiences is still allowed by the Corporation of Chennai, the association is not hosting any shows. There is always a great spirit of participation and enjoyment for the Durga Pujo among the 40,000 Bengalis residing in Chennai,” says secretary Soumya Guha Thakurta.
The Bengali Association here is the cultural hub for Durga festivities and has been a vibrant space in the city for 74 years now. Says Vishwarup Ray, a member of the association, “Earlier pandals were set up in open grounds and finally RBANMS Ground in Ulsoor became the home turf of celebrations in the city. Not just pujo, the association also hosts Rabindra Jayanti, Nazrul Islam Jayanti in a grand manner.” Ray also recalls that the Bengali association screened movies and staged dramas which gave people in Bengaluru a sneak-peek into the Bengali culture. The Association, which has been undergoing an organisational crisis for the last three years, is likely to suspend this year’s Durga Puja for the first time in 74 years.
BARSHA (Bengali Association for the Residents of Sarjapur and HSR Area), a six-year-old association, is the new kid on the block. From replicating Maddox Square (a famous social gathering space in Kolkata) to setting up book fairs, the association aims to share the culture of Bengal with Bengalureans. This time around, BARSHA is working on a theme called ‘Where Rural Bengal meets Karnataka’ where the Durga idol will be set up inside a structure that represents Karnataka-styled shelters. “We will also have performances of folk songs from Karnataka lined up and an exhibition of the state’s art,” says Priyanka Sinha Roy of BARSHA.
Jayamahal Durga Puja, which is celebrating its 66th year, was known for its theme-based events. Tapan Datta, Vice President of the association, says, “We set the trend of theme-based pujas and have got skilled artists from Kolkata to design structures of the Egyptian Pyramids, Vivekananda Rock Temple, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, among others. The idea was always to blend the architectural marvels with festivities and offer people a grand experience,” says Datta who also adds that there will be no theme-based puja this year due to the Covid restrictions.