Despite several constraints and strict regulations in a foreign land, the Bengalis in Hong Kong leave no stone unturned to arrange a Durga Puja.
In Hong Kong, the first Puja was held in 1999. At that time the number of families was much less ~ perhaps around 60 to 70. Till then the Bengalis used to celebrate only Saraswati Puja and gather in a restaurant to celebrate Bijoya Sammelani. In early 1999, veteran Bengalis of Hong Kong decided to form an association. For the first few years they celebrated the Puja in the Hindu temple at Happy Valley. However, the venue was shifted to Henry G Leong Community Centre in Yau Ma Tei in 2007.
The preparations for the festival start about three months in advance and the Community hall is booked in January or February. The community hall facility is not usually given to any organisation for five days at a stretch. “But the Hong Kong government grants a special permission and so we need to start the application process very early,” said Mr Debasis Roy Mahapatra, president of Hong Kong Bengali Association (HKBA).
They get the protima (idol) from Kolkata and worship each protima for three years due to financial constraints. They used to immerse the idol in the sea. But the environmental regulation made it almost impossible to do so. Some of the HKBA members from the shipping industry used to take it to the deep sea for immersion.
“Now, there are strict international regulations in place against that practice with heavy penalties in tow. So we have stopped that. We consulted our priest and he advised us to dispose it of using the services of local municipality. We pray to Maa Durga to forgive us for this,” said Mr Roy Mahapatra.
A priest from Kolkata had been performing the Puja for them since 1999. He brings all dasha karma materials with him. The Puja is performed on all five consecutive days following the actual tithis. For the past four years they have been celebrating the Puja in a government community hall.
Any naked flame is a strict no-no. Hence they have to resort to electrical pradip (lamp) and dhup (incense sticks). No dhuno (resin) is used and the home is done without lighting a fire. “We bought a Chinese drum here which the Chinese use for their lion dance and dragon boat festivals. That drum serves as a dhaak. Few of our members are good dhaakis,” he said. Usually they are unable to perform the Sandhi pujo at the proper time as the community hall must close down at 10 p.m. Hence, the priest has to find out an alternate auspicious time, preferably in the evening, for the ritual. The entire Puja ambience is one of a big family event. Almost 100 families gather for the occasion. In recent times many people from other Indian communities have also started attending.
“Few civil servants, district councillors and legislators ~ all Chinese ~ also visit us,” he added. In the evenings the members stage cultural programmes.