If you are a bengali living outside Kolkata then I am sure you will relate to this. Mahastami is that special day of the year when all of us throng to the Puja Pandal. Whether you are the devout types, the non-believers, the food lovers, the diet conscious, the ones that love to dress or the types that believe in minimal dressing, just about no bengali can stay away from the pujo pandal or the Mahastami bhog and no one really bothers the ordeal of standing in a queue for the bhog either. So what is it that pulls a bengali to these pandals thousands of kilometres away from Kolkata and their homeland?
Well for starters I feel that the Puja Pandal is one of those little oasis of nostalgia that’s absolutely indispensable for a Bengali. Long time ago Somerset Maugham had once mentioned in one of his travelogues that wherever in the world you migh be it is hard to miss a Bengali and his Bengali Association, and if I may add, their Durga Puja as well. Bengalis across the world throng to their nearest puj pandal for the puja experience and often using the opportunity to familiarize their kids with the unique puja experience that is otherwise hard to imagine in foreign set ups.
If we are talking about a Bengali and their baangaliana, it is almost impossible to not mention food and adda. Yet again the Durga Puja pandal is almost a melting pot of untold flavours. The fragrance of the gobindo bhog rice and the sona moong simmering together in the quintessential Ashtami bhog, the paanch misali labra or mixed vegetable, the aromatic rossogollas and of course the fast food stalls near the pandal dishing out Calcutta cuisine specialities like Mughlai Parathas, Roll, Chop, cutlets and what all come together to titillate the taste buds like never before and what joy it is to sit in circles wit the bhog plates and discuss the state of the world from Trump to taxes, extra terrestrial entities to difficult neighbours, the Bangaali adda indeed takes on a different flavour laced with Maa Durga’s blessings.
Most of us Bengali women we love our sarees, from Taant to Tussar, Tangail to Phulia, Matka, Murshidabadi or Baluchari silks, there is no place like the Puja Pandal to wear your sarees and team them with the right jewellery. To come all decked up and then compliment each other and decide on special themes on special days. The red and white garad taking centre stage on mahastami morning with the heaviest of gold and whether you are a hot shot corporate or travelling career person, most Bengali women swap their favourite attire for this 5.5 metre wonder dress on Mahastami morning.
But perhaps the most compelling reason and the everlasting charm of the Pujo pandal outside bengal is the fact that it is perhaps yor only platform to kindle your baangaliana, to pass on our cultural legacy to our children, take time off from our mundane lives and immerse in four days fiesta of song, dance, poetry and what not, to suddenly switch to Bengali from whatever language you might be speaking and celebrate your bangaliana.
So wherever you might be this morning, rush to yor nearest Pandaal for a little intoxicating dose of nostalgia and homecoming.