Keeping the tradition alive

KOLKATA, 22 SEPT: Durga Puja in Allahabad is not just a celebration but an effort by Bengalis to teach their children what Bengali heritage and tradition means.
An ambience of peace welcomes visitors from metropolitan cities to the holy land of Prayag where, according to Hindu religious scriptures, Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world, and Triveni Sangam ~ confluence of River Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati ~ and one of the four spots for Kumbha Mela. The city has a sizable Bengali population settled in different pockets. One of them is Preetam Nagar, named after Preetam Singh, who once owned a large brick-kiln there before the land was taken over by Allahabad Development Authority to develop a colony in 1984.
In 1985, Durga Puja was first started by 30 Bengali families, brought together by Mr Satya Gopal Paul in one of the playgrounds in the colony. Thus, Sulem Sarai Sarbojanin Durga Puja Committee was formed. The venue never changed in 26 years and the park is now known as Durga Puja Park.
In Allahabad, most of the Bengali children do not know how to speak Bangla, and they are not to be blamed as most of their time is spent in school and then music, dance or art academy in the evening, where they speak mostly Hindi. It is during the Durga Puja that such children are cajoled into learning the language. Not only this, it is perhaps the only Puja where there is a dress code. Married women, old and young, have to wear saree, shakha pola and smear sindur prominently during the puja days while men have to wear dhuti.
One of the eldest Bengali residents of the area, Mr SG Paul, said: “It may look orthodox but they have a deep impact on our children who are brought up in an alien land. They need to know what their roots are.” While the idol is brought from an area called Bairana in Allahabad, purohit is easily found in Preetam Nagar. “It’s a hard time for the purohits here since while performing puja, elderly women stand behind him and keep a check so that the purohit doesn’t take any short-cut and skip rituals,” said 16-year-old Anamika Ghosh.
Ananda Mela is an attraction here as women, irrespective of culinary talents, cook themselves and bring it to the fair. No outsider or food stall owners are allowed during Ananda Mela which is meant only for the Bengali families. “Aparna Mashi’s Dahi Bara or Mita Kaki’s phuchka, it gets so difficult to choose. It’s almost like a picnic,” Anamika added.
“We have a professional decorator but if our sons and daughters have any idea or they want to decorate the pandal with their paintings or artwork, they are always encouraged. No matter how off-key somebody is, the person always gets a chance to sing Agomoni. The principal idea is to have fun,” said Mr Paul adding that during Pujas the 200 Bengali families in the locality become one.

Soma Basu

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