Durga Puja in India and America
People rush to the malls to purchase gifts for relatives and friends. Cities are crowded as people flood the streets to admire the gorgeous lights and decorations. Family and friends come together to eat delicious home-cooked food and exchange presents to celebrate the holiday season of Durga Puja.
Some Indian American Blazers celebrate Durga Puja, an ancient Indian holiday, in the Unites States in order to continue the traditions that have been passed down to them from their ancestors. Ancient spiritual practices as well as the social customs of the celebration are an integral part of this festival, in both in America and India.
As I traveled to Calcutta, India, this past summer, I sought to find out more about this unique holiday. As it turns out, I didn't have to go too far, because this Hindu festival, celebrated during October throughout India and especially in the state of West Bengal, is an ancient tradition in my own family.
As my grandfather Kedar Chakrabarti explained to me, Durga Puja originated from Roman culture and was introduced in Bengal by Rani Bhavaani, an ancient queen during the Moghul Empire. The practice of celebrating this fall festival lies in the story of Durga, the goddess of power and prosperity who is awoken by Rama to help save his wife from imprisonment by a demon. This untimely awakening marks the time of the celebration.
This festival is a four-day celebration divided into different spiritual rituals. Chakrabarti explains that an ancient Indian form of worship takes place during this time. "Vedic [chants] are uttered in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, and flowers are given to the goddess next to a burning fire,” he says.
In Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, each community creates its own image of the goddess and displays it during the festival, according to Chakrabarti. These images are made of bamboo and adorned with colorful clothes and decorations. They are created by hand over the course of the year and displayed in a competition, where the best image receives a prize.
"The city doesn't sleep”
Spiritual traditions are not the only aspects of Durga Puja. Cultural and social components are also key to this festival. Various cultural programs take place including songs, dance dramas, and theatre performances that are very similar to Christmas carols and performances of the Nutcracker in America. "For four days the city doesn't sleep because many of the cultural programs go on well into the night,” Chakrabarti explains.
Professional singer and music teacher Tulirekha Dutta explains that this time also gives new artists an opportunity to showcase their talents. "Lots of new cassettes and CDs of modern and devotional Bengali songs are released because companies believe it is the ideal time for selling records, and now it has become a part and parcel of Durga Puja,” she says.
Same celebration,different location
In the Washington, D.C. area, Indian immigrants celebrate this festival by attending a weekend of programs organized by Sanskriti, a Bengali association, according to junior Victor Roy. He attends the event with his family every year.
To continue my personal connection with this holiday I, like other Blazers, pay homage to Durga by participating in this auspicious festival. "We go to the school and pray in front of [Durga]. Family, friends and the Indian community all come together,” explains junior Sreya Ghosh, who believes that it is important to "honor our gods.”
Indians also celebrate the holiday regardless of their religious beliefs or cultural background. "Everybody enjoys the festival irrespective of religion, thinking of it as his or her own,” explains Dutta with a smile of appreciation.
Though for me the epicenter of this festival lies with my family in India, I try to make it my own by understanding and appreciating the impact it has on my culture as other Blazers and I do our best to continue this tradition halfway across the globe.
Kristi Chakrabarti. Kristi Chakrabarti is finally a Magnet senior who is obsessed with basketball and is a die-hard Wizards fan. When she is not religiously following the NBA, she enjoys playing tennis and reading. Her favorite TV shows are Friends and ER and her favorite food is … More »