Puja is in the air and the State of Assam is wrapped in a cocoon of euphoria. The sound of the drums, the smell of camphor in the air, the bhogs, the aartis, the divine invocations clothing the State in strange mysticism and the unmistakable sense of joy in it, aren’t these the memories each one of us hold? There is a spright in every feet and a song in every heart. It’s the season of the kohuwa, the surreal smell of the sewali and the first feel of the dewdrops.
Who could forget those days of childhood, hopping from pandal to pandal, bargaining for the toy guns, the water balloons and buying whistles of varied colours. Well! puja has come and so has the time to look back and reminisce the fondest memories of the festive season. Here are some celebrities who recall their childhood memories of Durga Puja back home in the State.
Debojit Saha (Singer): The memories of Durga Puja takes me back to a time when buying fresh clothes, hopping from pandal to pandal invoked a different kind of excitement. I feel that excitement is lost somewhere, maybe because I have not been able to attend any pujas for several years now. During my college days back home in Silchar, I remember planning days in advance about what to eat, shop and wear. That excitement over wearing fresh new clothes early in the morning, ganging up with friends and moving from one pandal to the other, to come home in the evening only to change and go out again was something different. Those old images are stacked somewhere in the mind only as a beautiful memory today.
I remember going out to collect chanda with my friends for the puja in my para and saving a part of the collection for our special assortment of cold drinks, sweets and biryani. (laughs) Now it has been 7-8 years, I have not been to any puja. The puja month is also the peak season for stage shows and I am mostly touring abroad. When you are in India, even if you are not attending any pujas, you can at least feel the ambience but when you are abroad, I can’t express the depression I go through. It seems that while entertaining others, I have forgotten to entertain myself!
Joi Barua (Singer): Durga Puja in Assam heralds the onset of winters. In Jorhat, there used to be this lovely chill in the air and sunny bright days, when me and my cousins would go out to the nearest puja mandir at Theater Hall on JB Road. The roads would be lined up with small shops, selling a variety of stuffs, including our favourite pistols, crackers and toys. This was the carnival time. The buzz was electric. The sounds of the street and happy people walking to the pandals, still ring in my head like memories of another lifetime. It’s been a couple of years since I have not been home during Durga Puja and now the memories only make me nostalgic. Theater hall would host a lovely annual play and we would be so eagerly looking forward to it. We would sometimes take part in the background music session. I remember Xokunir Protixud and a couple of other very interesting plays being staged there. The menfolk presiding over the pujas and the women in their traditional finery, hundreds of people on the roads, we having Thumbs up and watching the variety exploding in front of our eyes are some of the memories I have of Durga Puja. I remember the sound of music roaring in the air, the toy guns, the babies crying, the laughter, the banter, the blowing of the police whistle, the jokes we shared with our friends... Ah! Everything makes me so nostalgic today. In my quiet hometown Jorhat, those were the days the streets came alive. I miss them now.
Shaswati Phukan (Singer): Durga Puja in Assam has always been very mystic and the very thought of it makes me nostalgic. It brings back to me the beautiful memories of my childhood. The roaring sound of the dhaak echoing through the walls of my neighbourhood, nights of colourfully decorated lights, the beautiful calm weather of autumn in Assam and the most beautiful face of Maa Durga, we used to stare at for a long long time.
Now in Mumbai, Ganesh Chaturthee, which is the main festival here in autumn, is observed with the same passion as our Durga Puja back home.
But even here, a lot of people from our region worship Goddess Durga in their own special way at Chembur, Shivaji Park, Andheri Lokhandwalla etc. Although I do visit the pujas here, I really miss our Durga Puja of Assam and may be, I miss my childhood...
I wish all Assamese a joyful Durga Puja, May Maa bring peace and wealth to Assam.
Adil Hussain (Actor): My memories of puja back in Goalpara? (hmm) I have great memories of Puja back home in Assam. That rhythm of the dhaak, those pandals adorned by intricate decorations, the smell of incense, the chanting of prayers and the ritual dance performed in front of the deity are some of the strongest visuals I have of Puja during my childhood. Years have passed by, but those visuals continue to have that intoxicating effect on me. I loved this festive season.
I remember going from pandal to pandal during those days, eating out with friends and never missing the ritual dance, my very good friend Uday Shankar Dey performed in front of the deity. He was an expert dancer and I loved to see him perform. I also remember looking out for beautiful girls on the streets-- all dressed in the best of clothes (laughs) and making passes at them. Ah! Those were good times! It’s been 17 years since I last got to visit any puja, especially in my home district. Puja is all in the memories now.
Begum Parveen Sultana (Classical vocalist): I have some beautiful memories of Durga Puja in Assam. That ambience was completely different from what it is now. It was simpler and not as commercialized as today. Puja in those days was celebrated more out of obeisance to the goddess than out of competition to outdo the other. I must say, in Nagaon where I lived, Kali Puja was more popular than Durga Puja. In Cotton Road, now called the Maniram Dewan Road, Kali Puja was celebrated with great pomp and show. It used to be a grand occasion. Durga Puja on the other hand, was less celebrated except in some Bengali families of Nagaon, who arranged Puja in their private residences. One puja, which I remember vividly and looked forward to every year, was the celebrations at Dr Khagen Roy’s family residence. It used to a grand occasion, and celebrated in a royal way. He happened to be my neighbour and every puja season, I would look forward to this celebration, to the prayers, the bhogs and the special khichris that they prepared. The doctor’s family would arrange jalsa in their residence during puja. And well-known artistes from Kolkata would also be called to perform. People like Meera Bandopadhyay, Hemanta and Sandhya Mukherjee would come to perform. I was young then, and as a school girl would also perform with them, chant slokas (chants an durga sloka) and mingle with the artistes in the classical extravanganza. Even today, I attend some puja celebrations in Mumbai. Although I am a Muslim girl, I was taught by my parents that music knows no religion, all that matters is the bhakti.
Subhalakshmi Khan (Dancer): Most part of my childhood was spent outside the State. But whenever we visited Sivasagar during pujas, we had a great time. There was a different mood in the air, it was a different kind of festivity. We would look forward to our new frocks and go out with our cousins and bordeuta to watch dramas. I remember my uncle performing at the dramas staged at the Sivasagar Natya Samaj during pujas. Once my father enacted the role of Ravana in Ramayaan, and we needed someone to dance in the court of Ravana. I was the choice and I remember how excited I was to take part in the play as a dancer.
Puja had a different meaning then. It was not about all about pomp and show, but it was a festivity that brought people together. There weren’t as many pujas as there are now, the numbers were very few and were mostly organized in private residences. I remember visiting the bongla, the residence of Bimala Prasad Chaliha, where puja used to be arranged every year with great fervor.
There was a sense of unity in the neighbourhood, in our chuburis; something which is not found today. All the neighbourhood would get together to celebrate the festive season. I also remember the smell of the sewali, collecting the flowers early morning and wearing the mekhala chadar in the reverse way (laughs). People then were happier with smaller things in life. Thank God, our upbringing was such that we always stayed rooted and knew the importance of family values. I long for those days, yes! Today, I have toured far and wide, and seen so many places but my heart goes out to the place of my birth, to my Sivasagar… I wish I could see the Puja celebrations back home again.
Mayukh Hazarika (Singer): Reminiscing about Puja in Assam brings back memories that are plenty and are laced with fondness for a time gone by. Personally, I have always felt a compelling spontaneous urge to attach the exhilarating ambience created at the time of a festival, to seasons. And so, for me childhood memories of Puja is synonymous with the exuberance of the month of October. Today when time seems to fly back to a distant past, I can still smell the sweet scent of autumn leaves and the mild embrace of winter setting in while I celebrated Puja in Assam as a child.
The field where the small hillock of Nijarapar behind the historic All India Radio descended used to be the melting point for a gamut of recreation during Puja. And I used to be there every single day, morning till night, dusk till dawn, with friends and foes alike to bathe in the rejoicing. Today when I am asked to pen down my memories of Puja in Assam, there are so many things that I recall and not a single one of them without joy. I remember my first brush with traditional theatre happened right then. ‘Jatra’, a now dying art form in most parts of the country used to find glory in this same field every evening. It would be preceded by soul stirring invocations to Goddess Durga and followed by film screenings through a projector, all in the same breath. I remember the different hues and shapes of balloons set free in the air and the sound of toy guns reverberating through the day. The films themselves spoke of bygone eras and of a black and white World and it seemed that the man in control of the projector had the ultimate authority to stop or change a film halfway, a man of lesser repute but great power.
I remember the new clothes that the children wore and the starched sarees with crisp creases the ladies wore. And above all, I can recall the invocations accompanied by the sound of resonating drums being fraught with a spirit of auspicious energy that used to take us to a realm unknown. Beautiful indeed…
As time flew and I grew with it, the meaning of Puja changed for me but not it’s essence. The memories of mischief and boundless fun might well be gradually fading but I know that cutting across colour, creed, occupation, position, privilege, economic standing, ideologies and affiliation, puja in Assam still brings people together….and that is the greatest memory of it that I have always carried, cherished and will continue to do so.
Jahnu Barua (Filmmaker): My father worked in the tea estate and most of my childhood was spent there. I have strong visuals of those days in the garden, when during every puja, three films would be shown in one big screen through day and night. I remember looking forward to these films. Then again, there was the excitement over new clothes since Bihu and puja were the only two occasions, when we would be getting them. So, you see, this festival was eagerly awaited.
It’s been 20-25 years, I have not paid any visit to puja pandals and frankly speaking, I don’t even miss them. A few years back, I happened to be shooting a film during this season, but I could not enjoy the festivity at all. My perspective and likes have changed over the years and today all that remains of the puja memories are those cherished moments in the tea garden, lying awake to watch those films with the community. By partaking in the puja festivity of today, I somehow do not wish to break those beautiful images I have of my childhood.
Seema Biswas (Actor): When I think of puja back home in Assam, the mind is filled with myriad emotions. That excitement over getting new clothes stitched by my mother, changing frocks every day to going out with my three sisters in the evening, are some of the memories deeply embedded in my mind. Asthami and Navami used to be very special to us. We would buy saris, sweets and everything was pre-planned and organized. Even today, I visit Assam frequently during the pujas since my family still lives there. And even when I am in Mumbai, I try to maintain my schedule and go out for puja shopping, buy sweets and offer obeisance to the goddess in the few Durga Puja pandals out here.
(As told to Swikrita Dowerah)
The Endangered Language Alliance, the Ethnic Services Round Table of the New York Library Association and the New York Public Library joined forces to raise awareness about minority languages in danger and organized the Endangered Languages Fair in the New York Public Library premises at Downtown New York on September 29, 2012. The event highlighted the significance of minority languages and efforts being made worldwide to preserve them. A number of speakers from across the world spoke about the need to preserve and celebrate several languages throughout the world.
While Daniel Kaufman, linguist and founder of the Endangered Language Alliance, discussed some of New York’s endangered linguistic communities and their languages, K David Harrison, linguist, author of The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages and a leader of the National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, spoke on most endangered languages in Siberia, India, Chile, the US and elsewhere in an hour-long session.
Many languages were discussed, from lesser known languages of Americas such as Ojibwe and Garifuna, of Europe like Circassian, Jewish languages like Yiddish, Ladino and others, becides Celtic languages like Irish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton. The Indo-Aryan language Bishnupriya Manipuri, which has been listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ language by UNESCO, was discussed at length in an exclusive session with Uttam Singha, founding member of POURI International. Singha, an expert on Bishnupriya Manupuri language, culture and history, presented some salient features of Bishnupriya Manipuri language, its roots, influences of both Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman language characteristics. Daniel Kaufman also shed some light upon a few key aspects of the language like ‘classifiers’ and ‘tripartite case system’. He said that there are some aspects of the language which might have not been explored in detail yet and that there is definitely some scope for research.
Uttam Singha later gave a brief about the Bishnupriya Manipuri people and their culture, like different dance forms, ornaments that they wear. He spoke about the struggle for recognition of the Bishnupriya Manipuris and how Late Sudeshna Sinha laid down her life in this struggle. He also spoke about some of the early pioneers of Bishnupriya Manipuri community like Sri Sri Bhubaneshwar Sadhu Thakur and Gokulananda Gitiswami, and modern greats like Justice SK Sinha of Bangladesh and renowned litterateur Brojendra Kumar Sinha.
Singha mentioned how Bishnupriya Manipuri language faces threat from various factors like emigration of people and adoption of major languages like Bengali, Assamese, Hindi and English by more and more people, particularly the younger generation, as their first language. In addition, he discussed about various measures of language revitalization and the role of Governments, technology, media like radio, television and theatre, and organizations like SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics).
Having arrived yet you don’t so exactly,
No, not until the arrival of the Devi.
But now dew drops and white sewali
Are ushering in the Devi,
So yes, Autumn, now you have arrived truly…!
But with the arrival of the Mother Goddess also arrive certain other Mothers in this festive land of ours. The Mother of all Traffic Jams, The Mother of all Crowds, The Mother of all Price Rise and despite her or due to her, The Mother of all Shopping and Eating-out Sprees. Of course, there also arrives the Father of all Demons, Mahishasura and the Father of all Jalebi Makers. For the young its fun, but for those like me, this is a time to make the Mother of all Escapes out of this city which even normally remains drowned in its own deluge, but more so in these days of the Devi’s wrath.
The Serial Escapist
Feel free to call me a coward but I am not embarrassed to proclaim that for the last few years I have been serially escaping from Guwahati during Durga Puja, to escape from its chaos, to keep my already hassled nerves in whatever sanity I may. I can’t escape to exasperatingly expensive solitary places with fancy names like the French Polynesian Bora Bora whateva islands, the Swiss Alps (Gulp!) or a spa resort in the middle of the Mediterranean which is vegetarian. I instead take off to some blissfully quaint part of our many forests and reserved sanctuaries with nothing more than the lone Forest Guest House but with everything when it comes to serenity. So while the Devi battles Mahishasura and Mahanagari, I am in profound peace with myself, a peace that makes me realize that the Mother Goddess is in reality within me.
Theme for a Dream
Okay, dreams don’t often come true. But does that stop anyone from dreaming? I mean, the dreaming done during waking hours? No, at least not me. So I often dream that some day there’ll be more like me fleeing the city to find peace, Divinity and Devi within ourselves and not amidst the loudness and multitude of an external carnival which veils the essence of prayer and of defeating the demons in us. I dream that a decade or two or even more from now, such will be the exodus from this city that chaos and madness will reach the tranquil places of today because everyone will be escaping there and take the rush out of this city. So? So peace and solitude will then appear here instead. There will be no jams, either of vehicles or of humans, the air will smell of incense and not fumes and walking down to the neighbourhood Puja mandap will be a joy and not a stress. And then I shall no more be a serial escapist from here. Yet, till then…
A tale of one city
But wait! Aren’t these festivities the soul of our land? Doesn’t the chaos in our city also bring with it some element of the spirit of holiday and merriment? Why then, just for a few cowards like me, should this city miss out on the spirit of Durga Puja? Come on then, brave-hearts, usher in the Devi and the happy bedlam to our even otherwise chaotic city!
Meanwhile, may the blessings of the Mother Goddess be upon each one of us…
1. Garim Das (Content writer): Durga Puja has lost its earlier appeal and has become more of a festival of show than a festival observed in worship of Goddess Durga. There is crass commercialization in every aspect of Durga Puja celebrations today.
2. Mubassir Raja (Student): In the name of Durga Puja, people get a chance to flaunt their new dresses, shoes and accessories. Then, there is also a strong competition among pandals. We are no doubt thrilled to see the colourfully decorated pandals but yes, I must admit that it has become more of a festival of show.
3. Jivan Dutta (Lawyer): India is growing as a country and with this growth, a huge amount of resources is being wasted in the name of festivals. I feel, we should not misutilize our resources in unnecessary decorations and competitions. We should rather pay more attention to spirituality.
4. Polina Das (Student): There has been much change in the Durga Puja celebrations. Earlier, it used to be celebrated out of obeisance to the Goddess but now puja pandals have become commercial shopping centres, with shops lined up on either side of the pandal, selling commercial goods.
5. David Lochan (Lecturer): The term religion itself is very complicated and is also the biggest business in India. As far as Durga Puja and the religious sentiments of the people are concerned, I think Goddess Durga is a big crowd puller today. There are still many who believe in the power of Durga, but the rest are just flowing in the mood of the festivity.
6. Jyoti Mishra (Student): For me, Durga Puja implies food, the jalebis and hanging out with friends. I have not seen the idol of Goddess Durga for the last many years and it does not bother me. Unless I am forced by my parents to visit the temples., I do not bother to go out. Yes, It has definitely turned into a festival of show, but I simply don’t care.
7. Manmohan Agarwal ( Shopkeeper): The pujas are always a peak time for business. However, I do not think that the beliefs have changed. Its true that people find this a good time to hang out with friends and have a good time together but this does not mean that the pujas have lost its earlier charm.
8. Mahendra Dinghia (Government employee): No I think, Durga Puja is a festival of Goddess Durga and irrespective of the changing trends, the sole purpose of its celebrations would remain the same always. Its not a festival of show but a festival of Goddess worship in the true sense of the term. And, I think we should all be accepting to the changing trends since the core idea have remained the same.