Sunday, October 17, 2004

probashi pujas 2004

(this is written based on a request of Manasi who posted a comment yesterday)

The exact point of time when Probasi Durga Pujas (also called Bahir Banger Pujas) was started is difficult to ascertain. It can be safely stated that it was but natural for the festivities to spread to neighboring states like Orissa and Bihar due to their proximity. Its reach widened when Bengalis took the bold decision of venturing out of their mothers’ apron strings. Initially, they were in the category of scientists and engineers – later, others joined the exodus when local opportunities started to dwindle. As a result, wherever there was a concentration of Bengalis, efforts were initiated to start the Pujas. Obviously, places like Jabalpur (ammunition factory), Bilaspur and Nagpur (headquarters of divisions of the railways), Bhilai, Raipur and Durg (steel factories), Mumbai (cine personalities, goldsmiths and silversmiths and BARC), Pune (Telco), Nasik (security press, aircraft factory), Bangalore (PSUs like HAL, BHEL, HMT etc..). Delhi (government servants, IAS officers etc..) took the lead in propagating Durga Pujas.

These celebrations last for four days and considerable amount of funds are involved. These funds are usually generated through voluntary donations of Patrons and well wishers, a large percentage of who belong to communities other than Bengalis. Therefore, the cultural programs organized on these occasions have to cater to their tastes too. In the recent past, the growing popularity of the Navaratri festivals and Dandiya dances, which coincide with Durga Puja, has affected the fund generation programs of most Puja committees.

In this brief piece, I will mention a few selected locations in Maharastra.

Since I am from Nasik, I will begin from here. In Nasik, there used to be only one Puja up to the late sixties held under the auspices of the Bengalis of the India Security Press and the Government of India Press. When the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited set up a factory in Nasik for the manufacture of fighter aircraft, there was a sizable induction of manpower – among them there were quite a few Bengalis. The location of the factory was 25 Kms away – hence, it came as no surprise when a second Puja was started by these Bengalis in a place called as Ojhar. This puja is now 35 years old!!

At a later date, an Air Force base was set up – along came one more Puja. Likewise, to cater to the growing Bengali population in the industrial areas of Satpur and Ambad, where many ancillary industries found permanent footholds, separate celebrations started. One of the main reasons for multiple pujas in the same city was the deterrent called distance – all the locations are at least 10 to 15 Kms away from the city centre and spread out in different directions like the spokes of a wheel! Most of the idols are of the conventional types and made in situ by artistes brought from Bengal. Each is unique in its own way. Whilst one relied on cultural programs with local talents, another encouraged small groups from Bengal giving them a chance to exhibit their specialties. Of course, orchestras by troupes from Mumbai and Pune had a universal appeal.

It is reported that in Mumbai, there are as many as 74 pujas!! The pujas in Madhavbagh of Jhaveri Bazaar is 75years old, similar to that of the Mumbai Durgabari Samiti’s pujas. The pujas in Navy Nagar are performed by the naval persons whilst at Sion it is the turn of the air force persons. Shivaji Park pujas is nearing the 70 year mark. In Bandra, the Notun Palli pujas is headed by film personalities. In Lokahandwala, the main organizer is the singer Abhijeet.

The largest puja in Pune is the one at Shivajinagar Congress Bhaban. During the festivities, stalls of Bengali sarees, sweets and eatables are added attractions. Bengalis from all over the city converge at this venue and, for a moment, you forget that you are far far away from Calcutta!!