Bangalore’s Bengali flavour

Navaratri, or the Nine Nights, are celebrated by the Bengalis as Durga Puja, or ‘Pujo’, for short. Over a period of years, several community Pujas have sprung up, and a roundup of a few ‘pandals’ (shamianas) over the five days of the Pujo brought some interesting vignettes of Bengali culture in our city, between the 5th and 9th of October.

Abstract at Ulsoor pandal

Abstract at Ulsoor pandal (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

Rites and rituals

Durga, in her aspect of Mahishasura Mardhini (slayer of the Buffalo-Demon) is fondly addressed as ‘Ma’, and the mother is invited with pomp and celebration as she is supposed to be coming home to her parental place in Kolkata, and by inference, in Bangalore, too! The procession, with the idol, goes through the streets, with the Dhakias (drummers, playing a rousing beat, and the devotees dancing). The idol is then ritually installed, and the festivities proceed towards the climax on Bijoya, or Vijaya Dashami, a day of victory of good over evil.

The worship concludes on the last day when the married ladies offer aarati to the Goddess, and then play ‘Sindoor Khela’, where they smear each others’ faces and hair with sindoor, or vermilion. The Goddess is then taken for the Bisorjon, or immersion, often with devotees weeping as their beloved Mother goes away for another year.

Durga Idol Closeup.

Durga idol closeup. (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

The Ulsoor Pujo at the RBANMS grounds is the largest in Bangalore; the South Bangalore Pujo at J.P Nagar is now in its 12th year, but the oldest Pujo in Bangalore is the Jayamahal one, which has been organized for several decades, by three generations of the Himadri Nandi family.

Traditional decorations at the pandals this year, included the intricate pith work, the ‘alponas’, and traditional idols. Programs showcasing Bengali culture and music were organized at every venue, and police were called in for security.

The taste of Bengal

Food, of course, formed an important part of the festivities. Bhog or prasad was offered to the Mother Goddess every day, but apart from the sacred offerings, several food stalls were set up at each venue, serving Bengali dishes such as ‘ghughni’, ‘potol poshto’, ‘luchi aloor dom’, and of course, the variety of milk sweets, starting from ‘roshogolla’, that Bengal is famous for.

As far as clothing went, though many youngsters came in their jeans and tops, the traditional ‘thaanther shaadi’ (Bengal cotton sarees) and "dhuti panjabi" for the men, predominated.

I spoke to several of the ladies who were waiting for the aarati and Sindoor Khela at the South Bangalore Pujo, and some of them felt that though it was very enjoyable, perhaps a little more organization was required to better contain the large numbers of people. Perhaps, feels Geetanjali Dhar, the South Bangalore Pujo also needs to move to an open ground, as, she said, "the pressing crowds did take some of the fun out of it for my two-year-old daughter Avantika." Sharmishta, who came all the way from Marathahalli to see the Pujo, said that the food stalls at the South Bangalore Pujo were "the most delicious… I am enjoying my second plate of hot jilebis!"

Bangaloreans of all communities enjoyed the festivities as much as the Bengalis did. It was very enjoyable to soak in the Pujo atmosphere, watch the blend of the traditional and the modern, and feel a part of the diverse mores and customs that impart such a cosmopolitan flavour to this city of ours.

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About Deepa Mohan 153 Articles
Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.