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Many facets of Puja

Durga Puja is not only a set of rituals to be followed strictly. Traditions that go long back in time still remains a significant aspect of the festivity of Durga Puja. To some puja means paying a visit to her father's place she has not seen for years, for others it is an occasion to buy a new pair of shankhas; some roam the mandaps with friends, while others spend busy time tasting mouth watering kheer-shondesh. Buying gorgeous saris and dazzling ornaments for Ma Durga is also a part of the rites of puja.

Buying saris
Buying a new sari for the puja is an essential part of the festivity for Hindu women. Everyone tries to buy a new sari according to the budget. Some buy it from the footpath, some from New Market and Gausia, while others buy from posh shopping malls. "I buy at least one sari during puja. It can be cotton, georgette or silk. Usually I buy from Gausia and New Market," said Kamala Ghosh from Shankhari Bazar.

However, it is hard for the poor to afford new sari in puja. Asked what she will do on the puja day, Pushporani, a 60-year old woman, selling flowers in front of Kali Mandir in Shankhari Bazar, said, "I will not buy any sari for myself in puja. I will sell flowers sitting at this place just like I do every day."

Buying new shankhas is also a part of the festivity. Shankhas are bangles made of white conch shells worn by married Hindu women to ensure the safety of their husbands.

"To me, buying a new shankha is as important as buying a new sari. I like to embellish my hands with colourful bangles but the appeal of a pair of new shankhas is always different," said Suchitra.

"Besides, every year I like to wear shankhas of new designs and Durga Puja is the perfect occasion to wear new designs," she said.

According to the shankha traders, the sale of shankhas goes up during the puja. "I sell more shankhas during puja than normal times because women like to wear new shankhas. Some people also buy it two months before the puja," said Amiya Kumar Sur, owner of New Laxmi Bhandar, a quaint shankha outlet at Shankhari Bazar.

Visiting the puja mandaps is the main part of the entertainment during puja. Most people like to visit the mandaps at Dhakeshwari Temple and the Ramkrishna Mission during Kumari Puja.

"Kumari Puja is very popular among us,” said Binoy Sur, shop owner selling puja items at Shankhari Bazar.

“But shop owners mostly miss it because puja is our peak season so we can't leave the shops," he said while displaying lavishly colourful ornaments for the Durga idols made of shola.

The vacation for Durga Puja is a perfect holiday for many to go out together with all the family members. For children this is a wonderful occasion to visit the zoo, shishupark and their maternal uncles' places.

"During puja going out means mostly visiting the mandaps. On the days of ashtami and nabami I like seeing the idols of Durga at mandaps in the evening," said Shila Saha, a housewife living in Jigatola. "On the ashtami I offer puja at the Shidheshwari Mandir. It is a must for me. Last year I went to the Rayer Bazar Akhra Mandir," she said.

Married women usually visit their fathers' places during puja.

“I will visit my father's place at Netrokona this puja," said Beli Das, a music teacher of Chhayanot.

Young people and students also like to visit the mandap at the Jagannath Hall at Dhaka University campus.

"On the Puja day I like to offer my anjali (an offering of flower and belpata) at the mandap of Jagannath Hall. Then I roam around the campus with my friends, both Hindus and Muslims and we go eating out," said Anjan Bhattacharyya, a BBA student at North South University.

Anjan said that he misses the real flavour of puja because of the one-day holiday.

"It is very unfortunate that I get a one-day holiday for Durga Puja when it starts from the sixth day. The classes and exams go on in full swing. So I miss the morning anjali of shashthi, shaptami, ashtami and nabami," he said.

"I remain so busy that I don't find time to visit my relatives or taste the sweetmeats," said Anjan.

Vegetables and sweetmeats are two indispensable items of the puja menu. Most families eat niramish for five days of puja from the shoshthi to the dashami.

"For puja I especially make chutney, payesh and naru beside other dishes. On the eighth day of puja I prepare vegetables according to the rituals," said Shila.

Coconut, kheer shondesh, kheerer naru, sesame naru and laddu are some special sweetmeats of puja. After the puja, mutton dishes of hilsha eggs and polao are preferred.

"When I was at home my mother used to prepare luchi, niramish, chholar daal, vegetables, sweetmeats and naru which I miss in Dhaka," said a university student who came to Dhaka for studies from Jessore.

But there are many who will not be able to afford sweetmeats for puja.

"In my house there will be no sweetmeat during puja because I do not have the money," said Shib Shankar Nag, an unemployed shankha artisan at Shankhari Bazar.

For ma...Durga
Buying red sari, shankha, fresh flowers, sword, trident and ornaments for Durga is a part of the ritual.

"Durga should wear all the ornaments like a married women do. So she needs to wear new shankhas," said Rabindranarayan Banarjee, priest of the Kali Mandir at Shankhari Bazar. S

Shankhas are especially bought by those who arrange annual pujas at their home.

Every year eight pujas are arranged at Shankhari Bazar including three arranged at home.

"I have bought a red sari from Sadarghat for Ma Durga. Now I need a pair of shankhas and those have to be of bigger size especially made for her," said Sreshtha Mohan, who has been arranging annual puja at his home to maintain the tradition of his forefathers.

Sometimes the shankhas are bought beforehand during the month of Bhadra.

"The shankhas will be worn in her hands before her fingers and palms are moulded and fixed with the arm," he said.

Asked about his budget Sreshtha, a 60-year old man wearing a worn out dhoti and shabby old shirt, said that since he is a man of limited income he tries his best to maintain the tradition by arranging a modest puja at home.

"I will have to buy a red sari, ornaments, comb, mirror and all the things she needs. I try to keep the expenses as low as possible," said Sreshtha.

Besides buying saris, brocade, satin and tissue cloths are bought and then benarosi and kanchipuram borders are stitched to it to make saris for Durga.

Many do the puja without the idol of Durga.

"We have a tradition of arranging nirakar or ghot puja in the family. It needs all the elements of Durga Puja save the idol," said Ranabir Ghosh Chowdhury, a teacher of Sonargaon Degree College, living in Tantibazar.

"In idol worship we have to invite lots of people but in nirakar puja we do not need to. This is also easier to save costs for people of limited income," he said.

"During puja, Durga is presented with a kharanga to keep her shankha, vermilion, mirror and comb. She is presented with a Gamchha, red bordered sari," said Ranabir.

"One hundred and eight lotuses are needed for the puja which is collected from the lakes and ponds in and around Dhaka," he said.

Kala Bou or offering prayer to a banana tree decked in sari in the form of a bride is also prevalent among the worshipers.

"The worship of Kala Bou is intertwined with nature. It is away of paying respect to the soil, trees and nature," said Amiya.

Sharbojonin Durga Puja
In case of Sharbojonin or baroari puja a group or a committee arranges puja by collecting money from all sections of people and the budget is quite high.

Almost all the residents of Shankhari Bazar pay for the sharbojonin pujas in the area.

"We know that have to pay for the pujas but we are not forced to pay. All of us contribute to the puja according to our abilities. The boys also know who can pay how much," said Amiya.

In the British period all the pujas were arranged by the affluent people following their family tradition. It was a regal event. Gradually the village panchayet started to arrange puja by collecting money from the villagers to make the Puja more people-oriented. In this way Sharbojonin Durga Puja became a vital part of puja. Nowadays most of the pujas are Sharbojonin pujas, he said.

One reason for the decreasing number of family puja is the migration of Hindu landlords and affluent Hindu families to India. Family pujas arranged by extended families also decreased because of this.

"When my grandmother was alive she used to arrange puja at our village home in Monirampur thana of Jessore. Since she herself arranged it, it was an obligatory ritual for my paternal uncles to take part in the puja. But after she passed away there remained no one to maintain the tradition," said Anjan Bhattacharyya.

But this void is being filled up by sharbojonin pujas.

"During my childhood there was only one puja in Shankhari Bazar and that was in Durgabari. But now there are so many mandaps you won't be able to count them all," said Amiya.

Durga Puja is one of the most popular events of the city where common people take part irrespective of their religion.

"To live you have to have a source of enjoyment, amusement and merrymaking. And Durga Puja is a pristine source of entertainment for the people of this country," said Amiya, while arranging shankhas sitting at his quaint old shop.

By Durdana Ghias
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


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