Rural Bengal in overseas land

A Chinese lion would dance on the river front of a village of Bengal during the Durga Puja to be held in Singapore this year. The Durga Puja, organised in Singapore by the Bengali Association Singapore (BAS), makes sure that the pujas are not only a religious affair with the gathering of family and friends but a fest where different cultures and traditions amalgamate.
Durga Puja and the October Cultural Festival are considered the most important socio-cultural event in the calendar of the Bengalis staying there. It is held on the vacant Guillemard army camp field.
The theme for this year’s puja is rural Bengal. The marquee will depict a riverside village. The Goddess would be on a sailboat, moored at the riverside. “All artwork and decoration are being conceptualised and created in Singapore by our members,” said Mr Nikhilesh Gupta, the president of the Bengali Association Singapore.
The marquee has an accomodation for 1,400 people. This year, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic performances will be held in the afternoons and evenings. Some of the performances lined up are: Lion dance, performance by the Indian Fine Arts Society, Malay folk dance, Eurasian dance performance, Chinese Youth Orchestra, Bhangra, Pop band from India and a local Singapore band. “Apart from these, our members will be performing along with a band called Crossroads formed by our own members. Several stalls will be put up in the arcade and they will sell food and gift items to give a feel of a carnival,” said Mr Gupta. The association makes arrangement for the priest to be flown in every year from Kolkata and the puja is performed exactly as the priest specifies. The Gupta Press Panjika is followed and the puja is held on all six days starting from Shasthi. The Durga idol is also brought from Kumartuli. The deity is immersed every two years in the sea.
“We will observe all prayers and traditions from Mahalaya to Sandhi Puja. The women prepare bhog every morning and lunch and dinner are prepared to cater to the visitors. It is prepared in excess to feed 2000 extra people daily,” said Mr Gupta. The Bengali Association Singapore is a 54-year-old association, registered in Singapore. It has approximately 650 families listed while there are several other unregistered members who gather during the pujas. The members of the association are first and second generation immigrants to Singapore. There are a couple of Bengali associations in Singapore that are run by Bangladeshi communities. “The event is meant to promote inter-cultural and inter-faith harmony and also to promote Bengali culture and traditions. We also invite under-privileged children and old folks from a local home,” said Mr Gupta.

Soma Basu

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