Sunday, October 23, 2016

Puja in Bangladesh: A Celebration of Arts and Culture

Fatema Nashrah

What makes Bangladesh beautiful? What binds its people together? What makes them part of a larger community which divided by differences? Perhaps the answer lies in a Bangladeshi’s inherent love for festivities and celebrations. Every year is marked with numerous festivals, each of which is celebrated with grandeur and merriment. The religious harmony of the nation is reflected in such festivals as people of all religions take delight in them. A particularly glaring example is the Puja celebrations of the Hindus.

Durga Puja is one such momentous occasion of the Hindu community that has transcended to socio-cultural significance for the larger Bengali community. Celebrating the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon Mahisasur, it epitomizes the power of good over evil. Shiva, Lakhsmi, Saraswati and Ganesha are some of the other deities worshipped during the puja.  It is a popular belief that the transportation of arrival and departure of the Goddess Durga determines the fate of the people for the upcoming year. The ritual consists of ten days of fast, feast and worship. However, the last five days as named Shashthi, Shaptami, Ashtami, Navami, Bijoya and Dashami are celebrated with the most anticipation. The long procession ends finally with the immersion of the sculpture of the deity in the water.

Over the ages, how the occasion is commemorated has evolved. However, the festival was not truly integrated into the Hindu culture till the 16th century. Until then, Durga Puja was observed in the quiet confinement of personal residences. Gradually, it began to gain prominence among the aristocrats of Bengal. Lavish feasts, month-long exultation and the elaborate rituals included the commoners too and the festival rose to become Sharbojanin (all-inclusive). People from all spheres of life were united in their celebrations and economic divides were disregarded in worship and community.

Pujas in our subcontinent have always been celebrated grandly. The art, music, food and the pandals add to the inescapable ambience of the auspicious festival. The pandals are, of course, the primary attraction of the festivities in all their glory. Local artisans spend long hours toiling over the regal idols, perfecting the sacred images. The process of creating these sculptures are themselves steeped in rites and rituals, from collecting holy clay to fasting before painting on the eyes. Amidst ornate edifices is a stage upon which the idol of Durga stands, mounted on a lion, wielding ten weapons in all ten of her hands- a stately vision. The masses gather around it to offer pushpanjali (flower worship) on mornings.

Puja celebrations in Bangladesh are celebrated with growing enthusiasm and gusto every year. Organizing requires months of prior planning. From open fields to narrow alleyways, thousands of pandals are erected, transforming the landscape into a religious centre. For the more popular pandals, preparation begins immediately after the previous puja celebrations with sky high budgets. Corporate sponsorship has been spurring on the festivities to reach greater heights of extravagancy and innovation. Theme based pandals are now part of the tradition of Durga puja, drawing in throngs of visitors. Past years have seen Harry Potter, ancient Greek mythology, Mayan and Egyptian civilization themed pandals. An underwater themed pandal in Chittagong with Durga perched on a stage resembling a coral reef garnered much attention and praise from visitors. Besides, pandals in Dhakeshwari National Temple, Shankhari Bazaar, Ramkrishna Mission, Jagannath Hall, Gulshan Banani Sharbojanin Puja Porishad in Dhaka are some of the most visually striking ones.

Durga Puja in Bangladesh celebrates art, artistry and our rich culture. The beat of the dhak, smell of burning incense, ritualistic dance worship or the aarati and the delicious bhog are embedded in our country’s heritage. People from all backgrounds, along with Hindus, revel in the spiritual and visual experience the festival proves to be. Buzzing energy and colorful vibes take over the streets in the duration. Every year, the celebrations are getting grander. At the end of the festivities, the statues of Durga are submerged in the rivers, a symbolic gesture of her farewell to unite with her husband in the Himalayas. Her departure is accompanied with loud chants of Ashche Bochhor Abar Hobe (It will happen again next year).

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