Durga Puja is said to be the festival of kings, so elaborate are the paraphernalia involved... the ingredients for mahasnan, the daily bath of the goddess, for instance, totals almost 75 items!
"By 1840, the practice (of collection of subscriptions) had become such a menace... that the magistrate of 24-Parganas, Mr Patton, had to travel incognito in a palanquin to put an end to the subscription drive in Behala."
The book is an introduction to Durga Puja, the grandest festival in eastern India, a celebration that provides a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Bengal. It is also a ready reckoner of all aspects of the Puja - its mythical origins, its socio-cultural evolution, its economic ramifications and its elaborate rituals. Spiced up with anecdotes and trivia collected from journals and newspapers from the 19th century to the present day, it is a compendium of knowledge associated with the worship of the oldest surviving Hindu traditions.
About the Author:
Sudeshna Banerjee is a journalist. She has been writing on Durga Puja for years and has also produced the script for a documentary film on the festival. A keen traveller, photographer and collector of stamps and coins, she lives with her family in Calcutta.
The book is an introduction to Durga Puja, the grandest festival in eastern India, a celebration that provides a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Bengal. It is also a ready reckoner of all aspects of the Puja—its mythical origins, its socio—cultural evolution, its economic ramifications and its elaborate rituals. Spiced up with anecdotes and trivia collected from journals and newspapers from the 19th century to the present day, it is a compendium of knowledge associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess, one of the oldest surviving Hindu traditions.
Sudeshna Banerjee is a journalist. She has been writing on Durga Puja for years and has also produced the script for a documentary film on the festival. A keen traveller, photographer: and collector of stamps and coins, she lives with her family Calcutta.
Durga Puja seems an all-too-familiar subject to write a book on as people from this part of the world get to live this gorgeous festival every year. Yet the intimacy perhaps fogs the questioning eye and the habit of taking the big picture for granted makes one unmindful of the smaller details. I have been lucky in being born in the Puja heartland, and the high point of my childhood autumns used to be enthusiastic performances with the kanshor-ghanta (a percussion instrument comprising a bell metal plate and a stick) as accompanist to the dhaki (drummer) at the local community puja pandal in Ranaghat, Nadia, about 74 km may from Calcutta.
I have been even luckier in getting the chance to prepare myself for a conscious distancing that is vital to arouse the queries that lie buried under years of unquestioning experience. Writing a script for a documentary film on Durga puja and researching the subject for a series of festival- special articles for The Telegraph gave me the wherewithal to embark on this project.
The book seeks to be an overview of the transmutation: of the most spectacular phenomenon to emerge out of Bengal and spread its wings across the globe in the last century.
A store of information to help the researcher, a ready reckoner for the uninitiated, a collection of unknown answers to questions never asked for those who grew up with the Puja, like myself, and entertainment for everyone—this, in a nutshell, is what the book is. It does not pretend to be a scholarly work on the anthropological origin and evolution of the autumnal ritual.
And the product would not have reached the press in the present form without the help of;
Prof. Kalyani Ghosh, who guided me through the birthpangs and held my hand firmly even in moments of uncertainty and despair
Prof. Supriya Chaudhuri, who edited a major portion of the book with an affectionate teacher’s care
Sumit Das Gupta, who gave me ample leave, latitude and support to write the book
Dr Achintya Mukhopadhyay, who kept my morale high and did an engineer brother’s best to plug the loopholes that stayed in the writing
Sarottama Majumdar, who proved once again what friends are for by taking part in many a brainstorming session and offering her scholarly comments
Dipayan Chatterjee, who provided me with encouragement when I needed it most
Soma Biswas, who, faithful as ever, fought with Time to provide me with a store of beautiful sketches at a short notice
Dipendra Chattopadhyay, who turned reporter and photographer in New York for this book’s sake
The Chatterjeas, Sunil Kumar, Tara, Arkadev, Bhargabi and my dear friend and refuge Surjamukhi, who were all there, like my own family, to help me out in whichever way
Purba Sengupta and Narayan Sanyal who spared time to answer all my queries
Vishakha Karnani who became a friend, with and without the camera
Somdatta Ghosh, Dr Damayanti Datta, Reshmi Sengupta, Dr Barnita Bagchi and Tanmoy Bhattacharya who offered advice whenever asked for
Biswajit Matilal, Alok Krishna Deb, Michael Bose, Pradip Ghosh, Samir Roychowdhury, Nijan Dey Chowdhury, Pankaj Banerjee, Arijit Roy Chowdhury and the Belur Math authorities who helped me gather quality visual material and reference books
the image-makers, decorators and weapon—suppliers of Kumortuli, the priests in Calcutta and Ranaghat, and the puja organisers and theme—makers who shared their knowledge and experiences with me p
Lila Mukherjee and Dr Sumita Mukhopadhyay who remained, as ever, my loyal support block
my mother Krishna Banerjee who turned into my assistant for the project and father Manindra Nath Banerjee who has built up a treasure trove of a library at home
I end this personal note with a story that I heard from a British friend, Heather Nice, who had spent years in Calcutta. One Puja, she took some European acquaintances on a pandal- hopping trip. At the entrance of a south Calcutta pandal, they paused wondering whether they would be allowed in. "Suddenly we noticed that a street—side music band had stopped playing and the members were whispering amongst themselves pointing at us. That made us so nervous that we told ourselves, ‘We shouldn’t be here. Let’s clear out’. The next moment they had broken into the opening bars of Que sera sera, which perhaps was the only Western tune they knew."
This warm inclusiveness is what Durga Puja is about and please god, may it stay this way.
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