by Amit Roy
FOR Hindu Bengalis, the main religious festival of the year is not Diwali, but Durga Puja, which this year runs until Friday (19).
Back in India, the clay idols of “Mother” Durga, her two “sons”, Ganesh and Kartikeya, and two “daughters”, Lakshmi and Saraswati, are immersed in the Ganges at the end of the period of worship.
This is to enable “mother”, who has been visiting her father’s home for a week, to return to her married abode. People brave heaving crowds of a million or more go “pandal hopping” in Kolkata to view the various Pujas taking place in the city.
In Britain, the equivalent of “pandal hopping” would be to go city dashing. This is also the time of the year when little or no work is done in government offices across West Bengal. C
ynics joke it is hard to distinguish this period from the rest of the year. “Last year there were between 50 and 55 Pujas in Britain,” I am told by Dr Sumit Konar, a postdoctoral chemistry researcher at Edinburgh University. “This year the number is up to 61.”
The locations range from Aberdeen to Bournemouth, from Belfast to Middlesbrough. To see 61 Pujas in Liverpool, Basingstoke, Bristol, Cambridge, Lei cester as well as Camden and several others in London in just a few days, would require British Rail to guarantee there will be no signal failures, strikes or the wrong sort of leaves/trespassers on the line.
Sumit has collaborated with Maitri Roy, a software engineer, and Abhirup Ghosh, who is doing a PhD in informatics, to produce an online map of the country – UK Puja Parikrama – with stars denoting the various Pujas.
Durga has gone digital, with organisers posting “live” images of their respective celebrations. Bengalis are known for putting on rival Pujas, but Sumit assures me: “The big news is that Bengalis in the UK have shown great unity. All the Puja organisers have actively participated in a common Whatsapp platform and shared individual Puja details.”
The clay deities are imported from a district called Kumortuli in Kolkata where they have been made for generations. Given Theresa May’s hard line on migrants, Bengalis are always relieved when Durga and the other deities make it through immigration.