FESTIVE SPIRIT/IN EUROPE
The Durga Puja festivities in Stockholm is the the legacy
of four migrant families, who started the celebration out
of the basement of a house sometime in the 1980s
COUR TESY: MANJOORI GANGULY
Manjoori Ganguly recalls her first Durga Puja
celebration in Sweden
One can take a Bengali out of Bengal, but never Bengal out of a Bengali, and everywhere a Bengali goes, Bhaanpa Ileesh (Steam-cooked Hilsa fish), Robindro shongeet (the music of Rabindranath Tagore) and Durga ‘pujo’ (as
Bengalis say it) follow.
And there is no one more possessive about their culture,
especially Durga Pujo, as a Bengali in a foreign country.
I cannot slot myself as the typical Bengali from West
Bengal. I hail from Maharashtra and am considered very
non-Bengali because my knowledge of Robindro shongeet
is limited, I use both my hands and a fair share of unmentionable expressions when I dig into a piece of Bhaanpa
Ileesh and I don’t instinctively go ‘eeeeeeeeeeesh’ like
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan did in Devdas.
However, Durga pujo is another story; a story deeply
etched in my Bengali DNA.
It is not just the annual homecoming of the Mother, with
her four children to their maternal grandfather’s abode. For
Bengalis, it is a season to be more Bengali than ever. You
can sense it in the air, when the sun begins to lose its feroc-
ity and there is a gentleness in the breeze, a fragrance of
wet clay being formed into the 10-armed idols of goddess
Durga and big boards screaming ‘Sale’ all over West
My first introductions to goddess Durga and her
entourage in Stockholm were in a tiny hall over a shopping
center in a southern district on a cold October day in 2005.
The goddess had to adjust her visit to fit into a weekend
that fell closest to her scheduled visit according to the
Hindu calendar, because the organisers and visitors could
only be free on weekends. I had to get over the idea of holidays during the festival. She and her children were bejeweled, but nothing could compare to the glitter borne by the
ladies in that little hall. Draped in their finest saris, and
sporting large bindis and vermillion, they had seen to it
that their children, too, projected a Bengali look. Well, I
said to myself, it is the last chance to dress up before we are
covered by layers and layers of warm clothing to beat the
From the pushpanjali (floral offerings to the goddess)
and bhog (food offered to the goddess) to the Khichdi,
Payesh (the Bengali version of Kheer) and the final mouth
freshening paan (stuffed betel leaf), it was all there, much
like it is back in India.
The organizing committee had not missed a thing. The
dhaaki (drummer), the reverberating sound of conch-shells, the cacophony, the ambience, the Bengali heartbeats
— I experienced it all in that tiny little hall that was hired
for the weekend.
Any Durga pujo is incomplete without cultural performances in the evening, and since no self-respecting Bengali
would let go of an opportunity to belt out a few Tagore
songs (there is one for every occasion and every emotion),
children trained in dance and music put together a cultural show. Proof of the fact that a piece of Bengal resides in
every Bengali, no matter where he or she lives.
Although not the same thing as the celebrations in India,
my first Durga pujo in Stockholm came pretty close to the
real thing, as close as one can get, being thousands of miles
away from home.
As I looked up to the goddess Durga in all her finery,
standing tall at a modest seven feet, a tear trickled down
my cheek. Not because I missed my country and its festivities, but because I knew that no matter what the size of the
idol and the scale of the festivities, the sentiments and the
emotions that come with this purely Bengali festival of
Durga Puja will always be unadulterated and undiluted. ;
Manjoori Ganguly is a full time stay-at-home mom with
interests ranging from painting to mathematics to writing.