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Hi Toronto - Dithi


Hi Toronto! If you are reading this right now, I can tell you one thing – I know this feeling; of being thousands of miles away from the smell of Kolkata Pujo, google-ing all four pujo days for live updates from Kolkata, pandal - hopping through pujo websites and just being intoxicated with nostalgia, of everything from the Dhaak to the Dhunuchi naach. But us Bengalies, we cannot just sit at home and be nostalgic about Durga’s homecoming, can we?!!! We recreate home away from home, we bring pujo home wherever we are – be it the quiet Swiss mountain towns or the sand dunes of the Middle East. This is one force, probably one of the few, that brings us Bengalies together ~ the love of Maa. The celebration of Her annual visit and the glory that bathes the skies from Mahalaya to Bijoya Dashami!


When we were living in Geneva, Switzerland (till our return back to Kolkata only this year) – pujo meant preparations. Weeks before the festive four days, I remember going through isles of coloured decorative paper and stationary (even Christmas lights) to put together the setting for our Maa to be ushered into. Friends got together, with glue and glitter and scissors and paper; week after week ~ crafting out everything from mango leaves to chandmaalas to origami lotus garlands from the scratch. Recreating a touch of the Bengali flavours – be it on snow or on sand. Our revered and much loved Amaranada Swamiji at the Vedantic Centre in Geneva started the Durga pujo, done in a very simple poignant way – there is a ritual that is performed with mantras by Swami-ji and offerings from all devotees at the centre that is packed with adoration from visitors from all over Switzerland on that day. Bengalies who have come to the country less than a week before hunt down the pujo and come – just to see Maa and get a taste of home. Each one of us used to cook a part of the bhog – and that felt like a blessing, most of us never get the chance to do that when in Kolkata unless we are part of Pujo Committee or part of a family that holds the pujo at their residence. We wore thermals under our sarees and overcoats on them. One time, it was a minus twelve in Geneva complete with blizzards from the North pole and I was in full pujo splendour, in one of the red sarees from my marriage trousseau, bindi and bouffant hair – complimented ever-so-bizarrely by black leather boots, overcoat and gloves.

In the years that followed, we started participating in the Zurich pujo, bigger in scale and amazingly well choreographed. In a Swiss chalet, a little away from Zurich, no less than four dhaaks played incessantly as we danced our hearts out! We were told later that each of the neighbours were offered a beauteous bottle of red wine as a gesture of thanks and encouragement for letting us make some noise, year after year. You know about the Swiss and their aversion to noise – especially after 10.00 pm. Phew! Zurich spares no effort and they fortunately have the means and the man power, purohit flown in with 108 lotuses and decorations from Kumortully. A new idol was flown in a couple of years back. Very elaborate bhogs served on all days. Patachitras from Midnapur adorned the chalet wall to wall one of the years. Artists came on invitation from India and performed. Community members put together endearing presentations as well. All in all, it was and continues to be an effort worth a hearty applause.

The year before last, fate brought me home during Pujo in a twist of situations. I decided to explore the 250+ year old family pujos, mostly in Central and North Kolkata, a completely random thought, on a whim. What I found was a door to a whole new Kolkata inside the pandal hopping pujo Kolkata I had known all my life. Not new, but 19th century Kolkata Pujo grandeur being replicated to the best of one’s abilities till date by family members. This is not the competing pandals and cultural programme pujo. This is the pujo that was born in dreams, that an ancestor got hundreds of years back compelling him to start the elaborate ritual festival at home. This is the pujo where the woman are identified by the design of their heirloom nose rings that they wear on pujo days to celebrate their lineage. It is the pujo where idols are made from the scratch on home thakurdalans and Maa’s face is the same every year. Rituals that go back generations are carried out meticulously. The families open their doors to the entire city and you are welcomed anytime of the day or night, whoever you are, wherever you are from. Welcomed, loved, blessed. That random thought set off a pattern for me. Year after year, I have been tracing these heritage pujos all over Kolkata seeking a chance to relive Bankim’s Bengal, Ray’s Charulata and Rituparno’s Antarmahal magnificence.

For each one of you reading this, as I am finishing up this note with just a couple of hours to go till Mahalaya starts – am sending you the smell of pujo dhuna, the thunderous beats of a million dhaaks at the ghats, the flowers of pushpanjali, the twinkle of Maa’s eyes at aaroti. Wherever you be, a Bengali at heart will always carry this in her/his soul. Pujo IS in our soul. What we experience and create around us is a manifestation of this love that has been sown and harvested for generations. Bathe in its glory, revel in Her love! Jai Durga Mai Ki -  Jai!

Love from Kolkata!


About Dithi:

Dithi (Mukherjee) is a painter and printmaking artist, currently based in Kolkata. One of her biggest muses is 19th century Bengal and she photo- journals her inspirations in walking the city to dig out slices of Rabindranath and Bankim's Bengal.

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#1 Anuradha Sen 2013-10-04 07:39
Wonderfully written. Your description about the pujo in Switzerland is something all of us, probashi Bengalis, can identify with. It's also about the yearning and nostalgia of childhood memories. Loved the description of the old, traditional family pujos - truly they were made of dreams of ancestors.

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