Let’s face it: Bengalis have zero chill during Durga Puja. As the biggest festival for the community starts in a few days, here’s what to expect from your Bengali friends this coming week.
For an otherwise non-narcissistic community, for the five days of Durga Puja, Bengalis seem to be readying themselves for the ramp. Constant and meticulous wardrobe planning is done because everyone is fighting to be the best dressed person in their circle (also, who knows, the Mister or Miss Right might just be in the crowd during pandal hopping).
Screw the diet – Durga Puja is the time to binge. Bengalis are constantly feasting, be it at home or when they go around visiting pandals. Also, because Durga Puja is not a vegetarian celebration (as if that can ever be possible at a Bengali festival), fish and meat are the toasts of every feast.
This is also the time when the singers-dancers-actors within Bengalis sprout wings. Most community pandals organize cultural programmes and host performances in the evenings. Most Bengalis have been rehearsing for months before the Pujas to prepare themselves for Puja performances.
Durga Puja also gives people a chance to meet new people. The friend’s cousin flying in from the US, the neighbour’s daughter coming home from Mumbai, daddy’s friend’s hot son will be visiting…Yes, when you bring your fashion A-game on, you are definitely looking to score some serious brownie points. And everybody approves of it too.
It is quite a common practice to listen to old Bengali Durga Puja specific songs. Even till today, Bengali musicians release albums before the Pujas and they are always looked forward to. But, let’s face it, the older music is still golden. Heavy on nostalgia, expect a lot of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Hemanta Mukherjee and Suchitra Mitra being played around you. Also, Kabir Suman and Nachiketa.
Every Bengali magazine releases a Puja special edition which Bengalis look forward to every year – followed by constant debate about how the quality of Bengali literature is perpetually deteriorating. While children spend the afternoons poring through Anandamela, the adults have their noses in Patrika, Desh and Sananda.
Whichever city you are in, Bengalis will definitely make “bhog” plans on the eighth day of the festival. A simple meal of khichuri, batter fried brinjals, mixed vegetables and assorted fry ups, the bhog is one of the highlights of festival. If you are in Mumbai, the long, serpentine queue at Shivaji Park will be proof of this. The “bhog” is the feast offered to the Goddess and everyone lines up to partake in it.
There is no escaping the dhaak – the Bengali drum – and dhunuchi naach – a rhythmic line dance performed during the Pujas to the beat of the dhaak, accompanied with an earthen vase of sorts filled with burning incense. Bollywood films have made these two components the salient symbols of the festival. Finding young men trying to do the dhunuchi naach is quite a common sight. Contrary to popular opinion, no, every Bengali does not know how to do it.
Having a tall glass – and some – of bhang concoctions with milk, cream, dry fruits and rose water is customary during the last day of the festival right before the idols are taken out for immersions. Parents might want to stop their teenage kids from having it, but what can you do when you are flying high yourself?
Lastly, during the immersions, watch the otherwise posh and propah Bengalis turn into robust dancers, gyrating to drum beats on the streets. It is quite a sight. When the bhang high fades, most of them are quite shocked with themselves.