Dancing with embers: dhunoochi naach

After Ganesha clears the way, other gods and goddesses arrive. Perhaps the biggest festival across the country are the ten days of Durga. This female aspect of power is also associated with the legendary king Rama and his war against Rakshasas. The only exception to this countrywide celebration used to be Maharashtra. Not any more, since the churn of populations which is now more than a century old brought the north Indian Ramlila, the southern Dusshera, and the Durga puja of the east to Mumbai. The weekend was a good time to join the huge crowds at these pujas.

Durga idol in the Bengali style

The largest Durga icons in Mumbai are in the Bengali style. Durga in the center, on her lion, killing a demon who has emerged from its form as a water buffalo, flanked by the quartet of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartikeya (from left to right). One of the interesting customs that the Bengali puja has is that of the banana tree as a deity: visible in the photo above to the left of Ganesha. The tree is covered in a sari, and most Bengalis interpret this as Ganesha’s wife. There is an older, and now almost forgotten, interpretation of this as symbolizing the power of Durga in the growth of plants. A trace of this is left in the ritual that the banana tree has to be decorated with other plants.

A spectacular tradition in the puja is the dance with censers.Playiing with fire: dhunoochi naach As you can see clearly in the featured photo, the censers used are vessels with open mouths. So there is an element of danger here, requiring skill. The dance used to be performed by the traditional male drummers. The featured photo shows one of them. Now it is not uncommon for others to perform this dance: see the photo alongside.

But the one thing that makes the Bengali puja accessible to everyone is that there is always more going on. The puja is part of a fair in which food stalls are prominent.Egg rolls being made in a Durga puja You can stand in the crowd around them (the stalls have inefficient service, so you do stand around a lot) and overhear comparisons with the food at other pujas. There is costume jewellery, clothes, sometimes even books on sale. I saw a placements agency doing walk-in interviews at one of these fairs. There is amateur music and theatre at most fairs. We listened to a rock quartet doing a very good medley of classic rock as well as Bollywood (the lead guitarist broke my niece’s heart). At other places the music is very professional, with very well-known names performing. If you don’t mind crowds then you can have a good time at these fairs.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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