Lights, colour, action. And then there would be some fireworks, dancing, music and paint powder thrown into the air. And don't forget the food. No, this is not a movie set but that of the gaiety involving the most celebrated Hindu religious festival-the puja.
Of course, the 'set piece' described above comes form a different time when religious festivals were very much of a family affair. It was an occasion when people from all walks of life were brought together to form a collective unit. People lived together as joint families forming one large squabbling group. These days the scene has changed what with families breaking up to form tiny isolated abodes. Neighbourhood children would collect donations to set up their own little peace offerings on every street corner. These still exist albeit in every other street corner or fewer.
Paal Baari is one such place in Joydebpur of Gazipur where puja is still celebrated in all its glory. The once serene village is now paved with asphalt over which luxurious SUVs rumble across. Despite that the town has still retained much of its rustic qualities. Paal Baari is a big complex where the whole place still maintains the classic layout of one big central porch with houses lining each side. The entire place is full of greenery creating a serene and peaceful atmosphere. At one end is situated a large stage which is used as the traditional family shrine where the gods and goddesses have been created by a man named Babulaal Paal for about 30 years.
The family consists of six brothers, wives and a total of 30 people including kids. The family has been living here for about a 100 years and celebrating puja just as long. The brothers informed that the only times it has not taken place was during the '71 war, division of the country in the 50's and recently when their parents died. It is believed that harm will fall upon the family if celebrations take place when someone dies.
During the religious rites many ask for help and guidance. Those whose prayers have been previously answered try to repay the kindness by offering gifts within their earning capabilities.
Of course, during oshthomi, kumari puja cannot be performed in the house shrine. It has to take place in a bigger shrine and at the Raam Krishna Mission. Womenfolk perform many rituals one of which is not to eat any meat of any kind for five days without eating anything other than vegetables and fruits.
The puja like most other religious festivals is divided over several days. On the day of doshomi, the womenfolk apply vermilion known as shidur to the forehead of the goddess Durga as well as themselves. They let their hearts gush forth with all the tales of sorrow and happiness. With such a huge scale celebration going on the wives of Paal Baari never feel the need to go to their parental homes for celebrating puja. It takes up all their time and effort to maintain the grand scale of festivities at their husbands' home which they perform with ride if nothing else.
These are just a few excerpts from the five days during which guests come and go through the gates of Paal Baari. Puja requires much preparation such as gathering water from the sae, a particular type of earth, hundred lilies and so on. Sometimes scrounging up these items can be quite difficult not to mention quit expensive these days when the most common things can have a high price.
But despite the hardships there are still places like Paal Baari where tradition is still maintained.
By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Photo: Paal Bari of Joydebpur