The Sound Of Dhak: Pre-Durga Puja Anticipation and Celebrations
Written by: Deepika Bhaduri
Photographs by: Shreya Chakraborty
Illustration by: Roshni Roy
Usually, whenever one hears the word ‘Bengali’, instantly there mind starts to think about maatch bhaath, sweets (especially roshogolla), Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry/songs or Durga Puja. Yes, these are quite the identifiers of Bengali culture. However, there are a few other nuances of being a Bengali which is equally important. Like, the pre-Durga puja preparations.
I admit it; it is sometimes difficult for the probashis to uphold the authenticity of the Bengali culture. The elements such as the fragrance of the Gondho Kash Phool (Kans grass) which once indicated the arrival of Durga Maa, cannot be re-created in any other part of the world. However, as long as there are few people around to understand the nostalgic feelings of the phrase “Bolo Bolo Durga Mai ki, joy!”, it is enough to rekindle the cultural roots. This phrase is like a mother’s lullaby to a Bengali’s ears. When they hear it, they fall into a trance-like state where all they can think about is eating bhogh, wearing new clothes, and going for pandal hopping with their friends.
All year-round, you might find bongs holding a warm cup of tea in one hand, and the other, placed thoughtfully on their chins as they discuss and appreciate some sort of art or literary work. However, when they hear the sound of Durga pujo’s (puja) dhak, around the fall months (September or October), they instantly let go of their cup of tea and start to follow the dhaki, as if someone has cast a spell on them. They follow the dhak beats like the children in the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin followed the sound of the flute.
It is their time of the year, wherever in the world they might be, the sound of dhaks are bound to bring them out to enjoy the pre-Durga pujo anandamela. In this mela (fest), the Bengalis come together and exhibit their culinary talents by putting stalls of home-cooked scrumptious food. Here is a secret, all the Bengalis work undercover in their homes throughout the year to concoct a Bengali dish with a twist to win the annual food competition, or if not win, at least, to earn some extra money to splurge on the main Durga Pujo days. It is a fest that one should not miss at any cost.
The preparation for Durga pujo starts one month in advance, as the building of pandals, construction of the sculptures of Durga Maa, the formation of the stages for various cultural programs, and the installation of the festive lights on the streets. Further to give momentum to the celebration, various cultural societies start holding sports, drawing, poetry and singing competitions. And, I am sure, all the Bengalis will agree with me when I say having begun bhaja (fried brinjal) while watching the cultural programs is just next-level fun. I bet even if the non-Bengalis try this, they will transform into a Bengali for a short moment; the fusion of Bengali songs with begun bhaja in mustard oil, topped with chaat masala, is not less than a transformative experience.
For some overly enthusiastic Bengalis, the echoes of various Bengali folk music and poetry that fills the air during this time is not enough. Their excitement can not be contained till Shashthi (first day of Durga puja) to see Durga Maa. So, they end up visiting the places where the unfinished sculptures of Durga Maa console them and reaffirm her sooner visit.
To be honest, this is the time when it is fun to see the Bengali’s play a festive role which is quite out of their usual polished and quiet selves. They become loud and feel ecstatic. They dance on the rhythm of dhak er aavaj (sound of the dhak) for days tirelessly. So, this year, join in on the fun and explore the pre-Durga pujo preparations first hand. All you need to do is find the nearest Bengali, and say the magical words “Durga Pujo”; and there you go, you will be all set to enjoy and live the Bengali experience.
Happy Durga Puja to all!