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The Durga Puja in Powai

About Aparna Mondal

Aparna Mondal was born and brought up in Kolkata. Presently she lives in Mumbai with her family. She always loved nature and that prompted her to study Biological Sciences. She loves to paint landscape and nature. Her other hobbies are reading, photography, travelling, making costume jewellery, acting, swimming. She has recently developed a special interest in putting her thoughts into writing. Making new friends and interacting with them make her feel loved.

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Prologue :

We are the Bengalis who moved out of Bengal a long time ago. Work brought us to other cities. We adapted ourselves to various cultures and enjoyed being part of spiritual occasions of different states, but sometimes in the back of the minds we longed to give our children an experience of the festivity of Kolkata’s Durga Puja.
We shifted to Mumbai in the year 2002 when our children were small. Gradually we settled into a peaceful life in Powai, within the sprawling Hiranandani gardens, a self contained serene township in Mumbai which rest of the Mumbaikars would probably envy in spite of the fact that it is away from the heart of the city.

Part 1

We had lots of friends here, both Bengalis and non- Bengalis. We used to travel all through the city to visit the Bengali pandals during Durga puja, tagging the children with us. The distance was always a hurdle. In Mumbai the children never had holidays during the four days of Durga puja. Thus “pandal hopping” or spending the day watching rituals of the Puja to have a real feel of it was difficult.

In the year 2006, some like minded Bengali people started the “Powai Bengali Welfare Association.” One of the founder members (Arjun da) was my husband’s friend. We too joined immediately. Bengali culture bound us together and we thought of celebrating Durga Puja. With lots of hard work, Gaurav da, Atanu, Rohit da, Pradipto da and all others in the team collaborated to host our first Durga Puja in grandeur. We in fact pulled off a stunningly successful Durgotsav in our very first year. Over the years our Durgotsav has incrementally grown in content, richness of culture and size, to the extent that it now garners the highest number of footfalls amongst all religious or cultural events in Mumbai , save for the Lal Baghcha Raja which still towers like colossus.

We have not restricted ourselves to Durga puja but have immersed ourselves in a variety of other social initiatives as well. The surplus from the funds collected during Durga Puja is kept aside and spent on those social activities throughout the year.

The preparations of our Durga puja begins at least a month before the start of pujo. As me and my husband are active members of the Powai Bengali Welfare Association (PBWA), our celebration and excitement starts from the day the first bamboo pole for the pandal is established. We perform a puja to mark the initiation of the Natmoncho or the temple which houses the deity on her arrival. This inaugural ceremony is called Khuti pujo.

Over the years, PBWA has become a family. We call everyone either by their first name or dada, didi or boudi. Our children have grown up over these thirteen years in this environment, in the company of this extended family. A strong bond of togetherness has strengthened our relationship over the years.

The Puja planning starts two months in advance. We divide ourselves into committees, subcommittees and teams. We have a very democratic set-up in spite of being headed by a formal managing committee and we all work together with hardly any hierarchical interference.

From the very first year, I took the initiative of collecting subscriptions. I lead the ladies’ team for this. We call out, plan, divide areas and allocate groups for each area to collect subscriptions from members’ houses and also from enthusiasts beyond our community. This exercise is full of fun. I enjoy doing it as we get to meet all the members in the process. I am called the Chanda (Bengali for subscription) expert by Gaurav da and was asked to give an analytical presentation of my experience once during the Annual day.

This subscriptions team is under Fundraising Committee. Arnob, my husband, plays his role in getting sponsorships. To be precise, we have committees like Fundraising , Cultural, Pujo, Natmancho (pandal), Security, Bhog, Ground Management, Souvenir, Media, Digital Assets and more. During weekends we meet at members’ houses in rotation to check on the progress of work. The responsibilities are so well distributed that every aspect of the festival is taken care of by able hands, skilled and experienced for the job. All the teams perform their duties perfectly. The Cultural team decides on the selection of artists for entertainment programs and also organises the in-house programs involving adults and children. I take part in the drama we stage every year. I was never into acting before but because of my loud voice, our director Ananta da chose me. Over the years I have developed a love for the art. I have taken charge of back stage duties and managed the backstage team for years. Now the younger generation has come forward to volunteer. Ananda, his wife, Dharitri and a bunch of youngsters has reduced my work pressure by sharing the responsibilities.

Part 2

The Bhog team is headed by Satya da, a professor. He plans the process immaculately and makes rosters for the community Bhog distribution. The team plans the menu and all the logistics associated with it.

When the artisans start making the pandal, every evening around 8:30 to 9 pm, we all assemble at the Pujo ground for discussion and chit-chatting, accompanied by tea and jhalmuri (Bengali dry bhel). A few weeks before the actual pujo, we periodically have dinner at the pujo ground. Somebody invariably sponsors the dinner. Pradipto da and other members will typically cook Mangsho bhat or macch bhat at the venue. A picnic of sorts. This keeps going till the day of Mahalaya.

On Mahalaya, I pick up my friend, Rekha, Gaurav da‘s wife, and reach the pandal at 5:30 am in the morning. By then the auditorium or the temple is almost constructed. Pillows and mattress are spread out by the decorators and we comfortably sit and listen to recorded “Chandi path” by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. This is followed by a breakfast with tea, jilipi (jalebi), bonde and singara (samosa).

The official arrangement of dinner at night on contributory basis is organised from that day onwards. Interested members pay their contributions and have dinner every night as long as they confirm their names a day in advance. This system was started for the benefit of the members, who devote their entire time in the supervisory work at the ground. They are thus relieved from the cooking chores at home.

Our Durga idols are prepared at a workshop in Shivaji Park where artisans from Kolkata come every year to make the idols. Every year at Laha da‘s house, the meeting for idol selection is held. The master artisan named Bappa comes with a catalogue and we select the basic sculpture from the catalogue. Over that we superimpose our own creative inputs. The jewellery design and clothes are all suggested by us.

To bring the deity to Powai puja ground is a royal experience. It exciting and worth sharing. The loading of Ma Durga on trucks is an art which needs special mention. Expert loaders from Mumbai docks are hired and all mechanical aids like lever, pulley and inclined planes are used in the progress. The loaders sing in unison when the idol is pulled by suspension on an inclined plane using rollers.

We bring the Devi from the workshop by two trucks accompanied by a convoy of six to eight cars. The two trucks are sandwiched in the middle of the convoy. We, the women, join the group to bring Ma Durga to Powai. The convoy moves at a speed of less than 20 kms/hour, so that the idols do not break due to shaking.

Few years back, the convoy was lead by women bikers, an emotional moment for us all as women-power reflected beautifully in the worshippers as well as the worshipped. This year, for the second time, I drove the convoy. Some members accompany the idols in the trucks with long poles, to remove the hanging branches of trees along the roads that obstruct free movement of the idols. Permission from various police stations are taken in advance.

At the pujo ground a team of ladies wearing red bordered white sarees welcome the Goddess amidst the holy music of conch shells, vernacularly called Shankha-dhwani and the auspicious Ulu-dhwani, a tune produced through the tongue. We normally bring the deity on the preceding Sunday of the puja.

The inauguration of Durga puja starts on the day of Panchami, with the lighting of lamps by the senior citizens of the organisation. They light the lamp and with their blessings, we start the cultural programmes on that evening. Every year this inauguration programme is managed by me and Aleya, another good friend of mine.

We have stopped going to Kolkata for Durga puja from 2006, the year PBWA started celebrating this festival. Our relatives from Kolkata occasionally visit us these days, to be part of this grand festivities.

 

Disclaimer : All names changed to maintain privacy

We are the Bengalis who moved out of Bengal a long time ago. Work brought us to other cities. We adapted ourselves to various cultures and enjoyed being part of spiritual occasions of different states, but sometimes in the back of the minds we longed to give our children an experience of the festivity of Kolkata’s Durga Puja.
We shifted to Mumbai in the year 2002 when our children were small. Gradually we settled into a peaceful life in Powai, within the sprawling Hiranandani gardens, a self contained serene township in Mumbai which rest of the Mumbaikars would probably envy in spite of the fact that it is away from the heart of the city.

(All names changed to protect privacy)

We had lots of friends here, both Bengalis and non- Bengalis. We used to travel all through the city to visit the Bengali pandals during Durga puja, tagging the children with us. The distance was always a hurdle. In Mumbai the children never had holidays during the four days of Durga puja. Thus “pandal hopping” or spending the day watching rituals of the Puja to have a real feel of it was difficult.

In the year 2006, some like minded Bengali people started the “Powai Bengali Welfare Association.” One of the founder members (Arjun da) was my husband’s friend. We too joined immediately. Bengali culture bound us together and we thought of celebrating Durga Puja. With lots of hard work, Gaurav da, Atanu, Rohit da, Pradipto da and all others in the team collaborated to host our first Durga Puja in grandeur. We in fact pulled off a stunningly successful Durgotsav in our very first year. Over the years our Durgotsav has incrementally grown in content, richness of culture and size, to the extent that it now garners the highest number of footfalls amongst all religious or cultural events in Mumbai , save for the Lal Baghcha Raja which still towers like colossus.

We have not restricted ourselves to Durga puja but have immersed ourselves in a variety of other social initiatives as well. The surplus from the funds collected during Durga Puja is kept aside and spent on those social activities throughout the year.

The preparations of our Durga puja begins at least a month before the start of pujo. As me and my husband are active members of the Powai Bengali Welfare Association (PBWA), our celebration and excitement starts from the day the first bamboo pole for the pandal is established. We perform a puja to mark the initiation of the Natmoncho or the temple which houses the deity on her arrival. This inaugural ceremony is called Khuti pujo.

Over the years, PBWA has become a family. We call everyone either by their first name or dada, didi or boudi. Our children have grown up over these thirteen years in this environment, in the company of this extended family. A strong bond of togetherness has strengthened our relationship over the years.

The Puja planning starts two months in advance. We divide ourselves into committees, subcommittees and teams. We have a very democratic set-up in spite of being headed by a formal managing committee and we all work together with hardly any hierarchical interference.

From the very first year, I took the initiative of collecting subscriptions. I lead the ladies’ team for this. We call out, plan, divide areas and allocate groups for each area to collect subscriptions from members’ houses and also from enthusiasts beyond our community. This exercise is full of fun. I enjoy doing it as we get to meet all the members in the process. I am called the Chanda (Bengali for subscription) expert by Gaurav da and was asked to give an analytical presentation of my experience once during the Annual day.

This subscriptions team is under Fundraising Committee. Arnob, my husband, plays his role in getting sponsorships. To be precise, we have committees like Fundraising , Cultural, Pujo, Natmancho (pandal), Security, Bhog, Ground Management, Souvenir, Media, Digital Assets and more. During weekends we meet at members’ houses in rotation to check on the progress of work. The responsibilities are so well distributed that every aspect of the festival is taken care of by able hands, skilled and experienced for the job. All the teams perform their duties perfectly. The Cultural team decides on the selection of artists for entertainment programs and also organises the in-house programs involving adults and children. I take part in the drama we stage every year. I was never into acting before but because of my loud voice, our director Ananta da chose me. Over the years I have developed a love for the art. I have taken charge of back stage duties and managed the backstage team for years. Now the younger generation has come forward to volunteer. Ananda, his wife, Dharitri and a bunch of youngsters has reduced my work pressure by sharing the responsibilities.

To be Continued in part 2…

The Bhog team is headed by Satya da, a professor. He plans the process immaculately and makes rosters for the community Bhog distribution. The team plans the menu and all the logistics associated with it.

When the artisans start making the pandal, every evening around 8:30 to 9 pm, we all assemble at the Pujo ground for discussion and chit-chatting, accompanied by tea and jhalmuri (Bengali dry bhel). A few weeks before the actual pujo, we periodically have dinner at the pujo ground. Somebody invariably sponsors the dinner. Pradipto da and other members will typically cook Mangsho bhat or macch bhat at the venue. A picnic of sorts. This keeps going till the day of Mahalaya.

On Mahalaya, I pick up my friend, Rekha, Gaurav da‘s wife, and reach the pandal at 5:30 am in the morning. By then the auditorium or the temple is almost constructed. Pillows and mattress are spread out by the decorators and we comfortably sit and listen to recorded “Chandi path” by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. This is followed by a breakfast with tea, jilipi (jalebi), bonde and singara (samosa).

The official arrangement of dinner at night on contributory basis is organised from that day onwards. Interested members pay their contributions and have dinner every night as long as they confirm their names a day in advance. This system was started for the benefit of the members, who devote their entire time in the supervisory work at the ground. They are thus relieved from the cooking chores at home.

Our Durga idols are prepared at a workshop in Shivaji Park where artisans from Kolkata come every year to make the idols. Every year at Laha da‘s house, the meeting for idol selection is held. The master artisan named Bappa comes with a catalogue and we select the basic sculpture from the catalogue. Over that we superimpose our own creative inputs. The jewellery design and clothes are all suggested by us.

To bring the deity to Powai puja ground is a royal experience. It exciting and worth sharing. The loading of Ma Durga on trucks is an art which needs special mention. Expert loaders from Mumbai docks are hired and all mechanical aids like lever, pulley and inclined planes are used in the progress. The loaders sing in unison when the idol is pulled by suspension on an inclined plane using rollers.

We bring the Devi from the workshop by two trucks accompanied by a convoy of six to eight cars. The two trucks are sandwiched in the middle of the convoy. We, the women, join the group to bring Ma Durga to Powai. The convoy moves at a speed of less than 20 kms/hour, so that the idols do not break due to shaking.

Few years back, the convoy was lead by women bikers, an emotional moment for us all as women-power reflected beautifully in the worshippers as well as the worshipped. This year, for the second time, I drove the convoy. Some members accompany the idols in the trucks with long poles, to remove the hanging branches of trees along the roads that obstruct free movement of the idols. Permission from various police stations are taken in advance.

At the pujo ground a team of ladies wearing red bordered white sarees welcome the Goddess amidst the holy music of conch shells, vernacularly called Shankha-dhwani and the auspicious Ulu-dhwani, a tune produced through the tongue. We normally bring the deity on the preceding Sunday of the puja.

The inauguration of Durga puja starts on the day of Panchami, with the lighting of lamps by the senior citizens of the organisation. They light the lamp and with their blessings, we start the cultural programmes on that evening. Every year this inauguration programme is managed by me and Aleya, another good friend of mine.

We have stopped going to Kolkata for Durga puja from 2006, the year PBWA started celebrating this festival. Our relatives from Kolkata occasionally visit us these days, to be part of this grand festivities.

Disclaimer : All names changed to maintain privacy

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