You know that the Bengali month of Ashwin is here when you see the translucent blue sky dotted with cotton candy fluff like white clouds or when the fields and riverbanks show off their lovely kashful blossoms swinging bashfully to the breeze.and you most certainly feel the presence of Ashwin in the air when the lawns are lush with moist green carpets that glisten with dewdrops and the bed near your old sheuli tree is a riot of colours -- delightful buds of white and orange. But amid all these subtle transformations, you know that Mother Nature is preparing to welcome her daughter and the distant low conch siren at dusk announces the coming of her married child, Durga, to her father, Himalaya's home.
Durgotshab is the biggest religious celebration of the Hindu community and it is full of passionate colours, intoxicating sounds, breathtaking stage plays and delectable food. Durga Puja in Bengal is a carnival, where people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs, participate and enjoy themselves to the hilt.
I have fond memories of Durga Puja from my Chittagong days when my cousin and I visited all the puja mandaps with her father, who was then the city's DC. The deity's grandeur, the dhaki's hypnotising beats and the larger-than-life performance of Mahishahur on stage all played a vital role in ingraining an almost starry-eyed romanticism in me regarding Durgotshab that remains in full vigour till date.
To relive those memories I go to most of the mandaps in Dhaka; but nothing lives up to the organised, sophisticated, magnificent Kumudini Welfare Trust Puja in Mirzapore, Tangail.
Rai Bhahadur Ranada Prasad Shaha, known to all as R P Shaha, was a spirited man who rose from humble beginnings to the zenith of power and wealth and left everything he earned to the welfare of human beings irrespective of cast, creed or religion. A man like him is rarely born and it would take years to actually find a true son of the country like him. From serving in the British Bengal Regiment's Medical Corps to trading coal and taking up a joint river transportation business to jute business and a business in warehouses, RP Shaha became wealthy through sheer hard work and self-sacrifice.
It was in 1944 that he turned the now almost 400-year-old Poddar family puja site to a gorgeous, white marble mandap where the Sharbajonin Puja continues to be celebrated even today.
“He invited people from all faiths such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Muslims citing the fact that we are all children of Ma Durga and she cannot love any one of us less than the other,” says Protiva Mutsuddi, Director, Kumudini Welfare Trust.
“He faced criticism but he was adamant; there were 400 unans or open stoves cooking 40 to 50 mounds of food for every meal and feeding people who came for days at a stretch. There were two jatra or opera performances, Bolanath opera and Omolendu Biswas' jatra, that performed alternately for the masses and he invited guests to his home throughout the festival. Since he was a Baishnob there was no ritual of boli but he donated clothes on Dashami,” Mutsuddi recalls fondly.
Decades later, the Kumudini Welfare Trust puja still stands tall in terms of glitz, glamour, organisation and sophistication. In a pandemonium of colours, their puja is still steeped in rich culture and tradition, untainted and unaffected by Hindi cinema music and other such influences. With the students of Bharateswari Homes performing bondona and aarti themselves, the golden personal touch of the Kumudini puja is contagious and undeniable. As is the engulfing air of festivity and mass participation. Today, RP Shaha's legacy lives on and his grand pujas are still performed by his inheritors.
By Raffat Binte Rashid
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Chaitee and Tumpa
Makeup and styling: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Kumudini Handicrafts
Location: Kumudini Welfare Trust, Mirzapore, Tangail
Special thanks to Srimati Shaha, Director Kumudini Handicrafts for allowing us to do the photo shoot on Kumudini premises.
Our gratitude to Ms Protiva Mutsuddi, Director, Kumudini Welfare Trust, Ms. Hena Sultana, Senior Teacher Cutural Department and Bangla Department, Bharateswari Homes, Ms. Shikha Das, Teacher, Bangla Department, Bharateswari Homes, for not only opening their gates but their hearts too for the Star Lifestyly team.