The Durga Pujo Debate – How Bengal defeated the BJP and Cowbelt Hinduism
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the annual calendar for Bengalis is broadly divided into two parts: CP and DP (Countdown to Pujo and Durga Pujo). Our wait for the grand festival begins the moment Maa Durga leaves the mandaps. Fun, frolic, food, new clothes, merriment mark this festival that celebrate women power and the victory of good over evil. And over the last few years, Durga Pujo has become an occasion for the clubs in Kolkata to showcase the best of the art that our State boasts of.
Bengal has always been one of the most liberal States. Right from the days of the freedom struggle, Bengalis have given direction to the rest of India in terms of culture, philosophy, spirituality and even nationalism. However, there was a rapid decline in the leadership of Bengal post-independence, compounded by the 34 year old Left rule in the State. With the rise of the BJP across the country in the recent past, there have been attempts to appropriate our culture and impose the north Indian ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ mantra on Bengalis. And Durga Pujo, being our biggest cultural symbol, has been under attack too.
Nazrul had once famously written, ‘Hindu na ora Muslim, oi jiggase kon jon… Kandari bolo dubiche manush, sontan mor maar (Who is it that asks the faith of the drowning figure. He is neither Hindu, nor Muslim; he is the son of our Motherland).’ This beautifully exemplifies the culture of solidarity and harmony prevalent in Bengal. And using the pretext of Durga Pujo, there were repeated attacks on the very foundation of this bond of unity by the aforementioned forces.
Durga Pujo is more than just the autumnal worship of Goddess Durga following Vedic scriptures and rituals. The festival has transformed into a cultural melee where we celebrate the homecoming of a daughter (Uma returns from Kailash). We indulge in limitless gluttony as the rest of India fasts. Rules are relaxed for these five-odd days. The young have the permission to stay out at night with friends; womenfolk get respite from the kitchen. There is a popular saying that during Pujo you even forgive your enemies.
This year, the BJP tried to cook up a storm over some restrictions imposed by the State Government regarding the immersion of Maa Durga, in light of Muharram falling on Ekadoshi. The Modi-media in Delhi, which is ever so eager to paint Bengal in a bad light, jumped into the fray and called this an assault on Hinduism (I am not sure if anyone noticed it, ANI which fervently tweets about every little detail of Ganesh Puja in Mumbai, does not even spare a tweet for the best of the pandals in Kolkata which excel in creativity). There were sustained social media campaigns to make this a ‘us vs them’ issue.
The unkindest cut of all was the cultural aggression of some of the biggest symbols of Durga Pujo for the average Bengali – food and fun. A very creative ad depicting Maa Durga getting a makeover at Jawed Habib’s salon had to be taken off after a massive outcry by the north Indian Hindu right-wing on social media. Several pandals in Delhi this year were forced not to serve non-vegetarian dishes like fish fry or biriyani because cowbelt fasts during Navratri. Could it get more idiotic and cruel?
As Deepanjan Da wrote in this piece, Bengalis have humanised Maa Durga. For us, she is the daughter who is coming home for her annual vacation. Durga and her entourage of children have always featured in promotional ads like the one Habib posted. We have grown up on Pujabarshikis that showed Kartik as a rockstar, Saraswati playing the guitar and Shib dropping Durga to Kolkata on a bike.
Food is an absolute essential part of Durga Pujo festivities for us. Nabami is incomplete without a sumptuous meal featuring mutton. This is the time of the year when people let go of their daily drudgery and indulge in uninhibited frolic. Specially so for countless probashi Bangalis, who get a taste of the Bengali food only at the food stalls in Durga Pujo pandals. The imposition of vegetarianism on them is a downright assault on their freedoms.
But in New India, this seems to be the order of the day. The culture, ethos and language (sic) of a handful of Hindus in the cowbelt must be adopted by all Indians; any reluctance would invite the tag of anti-national. This is a disturbing trend where we must give up the humanisation of our Gods, put them up on a high pedestal and revere them in the Sanskritised, Brahminical traditions as ordained by our masters sitting in Delhi.
Anyone who has grown up in Bengal would know that apart from Bonedi Baris (traditional households) hardly any community puja immerses their Durga idol on Dashami. Ekadoshi is an inauspicious day for which immersions are naturally avoided on this day. Most immersions in Kolkata, and districts, happen on Dadoshi (the second day after Dashami). The main ritual followed on Dashami is the ‘Darpan Bishorjon’ (immersion of the mirror which is an embodiment of the idol) into a pot of water at the pandal. This ritual is carried out early in the morning, following which Maa Durga’s boron happens. The scriptures say no more. There is no word about idol immersion.
But the BJP, eager to carve a political space in Bengal, and with the ulterior motive of imposing the ‘Dussehra culture’ here, insisted on immersions on Dashami and Ekadoshi. Leaders sitting in Delhi or Bhopal were making comments without any semblance of ground realities in the State. Inciting communal hatred, as they have done in the past, with fake news and photoshopped images on social media, was their grand plan. But the indomitable Bengali spirit defeated them.
Over the last few days, the average Bengali in Kolkata was on the streets, with their friends, munching on the yummy egg roll, criss-crossing the city, hopping from one pandal to another. My personal Facebook feed was full of gleeful selfies, Instagram was full of bright colours of the pandals and enticing food on the plate. The Kolkata Police was actively screening posts on social media for any fake updates. Moreover, the community Pujo organisers in Kolkata have decided to defy the High Court’s fatwa of immersion on Ekadoshi and stick to decades of traditions.
The BJP has a long way to go to breach the Bengali citadel. They may have the support of a handful of rich probashi Bangalis in CR Park or Whitefield. But our culture is not for sale. We will safeguard it in our own style. As the popular inscription at the back of autorickshaws in Kolkata say, “Dekhbi aar jolbi, luchir moto fulbi“.
P.S. I am taking My Alexa Rank to the next level with #MyFriendAlexa with BlogChatter. This is Post #8