It’s that time of the year again when the wait for the biggest celebration for a Bengali household comes to an end with the arrival of Mahalaya. For the next ten days, all that one can hear a Bengali talk about is how Durga pujo is nothing short of an emotion. It doesn’t matter in which city you are going to celebrate pujo this year. It could be Berhampore/Murshidabad, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, New York or London because the level of excitement always stays the same.
Mahalaya in my childhood meant the beginning of school holidays. Preparation began the night before as Ma pestered me to sleep early while ensuring that Baba kept the radio station sorted out for the wee hours of the morning. Sharp at 4 am, she woke up every year to turn on the radio. I would snuggle up to them with sleepy eyes as Mahishashur Mardini was aired on All India Radio. Birendra Krishna Bhadra chanted the verses of Chandi Kavya/Path while devotional songs played during intervals.
And then Doordarshan came up with a Mahalaya special episode of Mahishashur Mardini. My parents would watch till the end as I dozed off intermittently. Baba would next go to the local sweet shop Mitali and get us Kachori, Aloo Dum and misthi. I still feel those were the only motivating factors for me to wake up so early.
I normally spent the day reading books that I would stack up for the last few months. These were called pujabarshikis because these annual magazines were published only during pujo. For me, Anandamela pujabarshiki meant the world though we also got Shukhtara, Desh, Sananda and Anandalok. This hasn’t changed over the years. Last year I had written a post on how this is a gift from my father that I eagerly wait for every year. This year, I am hoping to get it when I travel to Berhampore this 12th.
After lunch every year, Ma would get down to the serious business of finalizing dresses to be worn throughout sashthi to dasami. During my childhood, the count of my pujo dresses would be 10-12 usually. Other than my parents, dresses were gifts that relatives bestowed upon me. Ma’s sarees were mostly bought by Baba and her though she also received gifts from my grandparents. Baba wore tailor-made trousers – shirts and ended up having the least number of clothes. My mother would have invariably purchased him two pyjama – kurta sets for pujo from her own savings.
For a child, it was a daunting task to choose the dress that was to be worn on Saptami morning against the one that would make it to the night selection. However, the most beautiful dress was always reserved for the most important day of pujo – ashtami. I would then go back to the world of Pandob Goyenda, Kakababu – Santu and Kikira in books.
The last item that Ma ensured was stocked in sufficient quantities were pujo special delicacies. Home made naru (round balls made of coconut and jaggery/sugar ), moya ( round balls made of puffed rice and jaggery), murki (made from beaten rice and jaggery) and nimki (salted item made of maida). These were items to be savored during pujo and anyone visiting our house during this period would invariably end up eating a lot of my Mom’s pujo special dishes.
With time, the dynamics of Mahalaya changed for me. After plus two, I had moved out of my hometown for higher studies. Since then, all my Mahalayas were spent in hostels at various parts of the country. Eventually, Mahalaya had started becoming more of a holiday that reminded me that pujo was just around the corner. After I started my job, It was difficult to avail leave during this period as most of the staffs would have also wanted to be on a holiday during pujo/Navaratri. I would stay back and try to get leave during Diwali. But it was really difficult to stay away from my home during these four days. If there was one time that I wished to soak in the festivities with my family, it was during Durga Pujo.
After Ma’s demise in 2011, Mahalaya and Pujo ceased to have any special place in my life. Mahalaya for me is still about my Ma. My husband and I never felt the urge to come back to Bengal during pujo. We chose to get familiar with the pujo in Mysore or the Ulsoor/Malleshwara/Koramangla pujo in Bangalore. After my son was born and I chose to quit my corporate job, we celebrated pujo in Bengal after years in 2016. Last year, he had turned two just after Mahalaya and I realized that I couldn; carry on with my emotional baggage that would deprive him of being part of such a joyous occasion. We celebrated pujo together as he learnt about various aspects of pujo like pandal hopping, eating bhog and made Osur/Asura his friend.
This year, we have been talking to him about Mahalaya and how his Dadai (my father-in-law) performs Tarpan every year in Ganga. He knows it is for the departed soul of his forefathers. We had also told him the story of Devi Durga killing Mahishahur and the beginning of Devi Pakshya today. Today morning, both of us woke up to the sound of blazing loudspeakers at 4am (not my idea of pujo though) playing Mahishashur Mardini. The poor boy has been suffering from a bad bout of viral infection that has left him sleep-deprived and weak for the past five days. I was expecting a meltdown at that moment as ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu’ played in the background. Instead, I found him beaming with joy as he asked excitedly asked if Ma Durga has reached the Pandal today and if I will let him wear a new Pyjama Punjabi today. It was difficult not to get emotional when he asked for luchi-aloo dum-mishti for breakfast today.
His generation will probably grow up with a different concept of pujo than what we experienced. But it doesn’t really matter as long as the spirit of the festival is upheld. My mother helped me create memories by getting me involved in the celebration. I realized that as a mother to a three-year-old, I am probably trying to do the same. I’m passing on my experiences in the form of creating moments for him so that when he turns back to think of these days much later in life, he would realize what beautiful memories are etched in his heart and soul. As I start packing for our pujo trip to Berhampore this Friday, here’s a very Shuvo Mahalya from me and my family to everyone reading this post.
This Durga Pujo, 19 bloggers will bring out different facets of Durga Pujo as we share our journey from various parts of the country. You can follow the hashtag #bloggersdurgapujo on FB/Twitter/Instagram and stay updated on every post, picture, video that we share. Please show us some love in the form of likes, comments and shares as we take you on a memorable ride.
List of Participating Bloggers
Dr. Amrita Basu (Misra): https://healthwealthbridge.com
Anupriya Gupta: https:////www.mommytincture
Esha Chakraborty: https://bookhippo.wordpress.com
Indrani Ghose: https://isharethese.com
Kapila Rattan Bhowmik: www.everylittlethinghappiness.com
Dr. Kuheli Bhattacharya: http://www.thefoodietrails.com
Moumita Sen: https://www.socialconnoisseursblog.com
Nehal Roy: http://www.easyhomeremedies.co.in
Paromita Biswas: https://goodtimestrails.com
Rahul Basu: https://bongfooodie.com
Sayanti Mahapatra: http://bingeonbasics.com
Shalini Magdel Das: http://lostloveadventure.com/
Shamik Byabartta: http://www.mixedflavorsblog.com
Sharmishtha S Ghosh: https://letstalkjhaalmishti.wordpress.com
Shruti Dugar: http://webofwords.in
Siya Bose: https://bestylechic.wordpress.com
Sonali Chauhan: https://sonalichauhanreviews.wordpress.com
Sonia Chatterjee: https://soniasmusings.com
Soumosri and Utsab https://happilyfoodies.wordpress.com/
Vasundhara Sarkar: https://vasundharasarkaris.wixsite.com/thesassyshimmer/blog