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Archive for October, 2012

Last week was the time of year when Bongs (Bengalis) world over, celebrated Durga puja, which in many ways is our Christmas.  But it comes without the drama and logistical nightmare of cooking the Christmas dinner, buying multitudinous presents and being in the close confines of just family when all the shops are closed.

So for anyone who loves Christmas, enjoys dressing up, likes the sound of free Indian food cooked by someone else, and appreciates Durga’s kick-ass qualities I wrote about last year, here are some tips ‘to do puja’ like a Bong next year.

Do: Don’t:
Choose what days to go. Puja lasts for 3 days (as do most festivals and weddings in India). I’d recommend Ashtami and/or Nobami evenings – the 2nd and 3rd days of puja. Go everyday both afternoon and evening. It’s going to be hard to take that much time off work and seems a bit overkill unless you are a) very religious, b) have run out of food at home and a bit skint or c) have loads of saris that you really want to show off.
Dress up.  When you live abroad, Indian weddings and pujas are the only two real occasions when we get to wear our Indian finery.  For women, saris are standard but churidar kurtas (a kaftan-like top with leggings basically) will also do. Men can get away with just coming from work i.e. trousers and shirt unless you are on the hunt for a traditional Bengali bride. Then perhaps opt for a kurta + pajama to really impress. Come looking like an over-decorated Christmas tree.  We Bengalis are intellectual snobs and therefore believe we are the custodians of ‘good taste’.  We will judge you.
Give Anjali – this is the prayer offering with Sanskrit mantras.  People usually repeat them quietly to themselves after the priest says each line. Loudly repeat the mantras. Some of the Sanskrit words are really long and difficult to say. I still struggle with some of them so I prefer to say them softly rather than have other people be distracted by me mangling the rich and evocative words.
Ask for sensible things during Anjali such as to grow in confidence, work harder in school, be more patient etc. Ask to be rich, to find a nice husband, a son, or the latest Macbook Pro laptop.  It’s not in god’s hands. You know that.  And it’s a little tacky (there goes the Bengali judgement again). Durga is also not our version of Santa.
Enjoy the food!  It’s usually vegetarian but it doesn’t have to be. The standard fare is ‘Khichuri’ –  a rice and lentil dish, a vegetable curry, a veggie pakora and then a sweet.  It is not uncommon for people to choose which pujas to go to on the strength of the food! Go for seconds until after the first round has been and just ask to make sure it’s ok. Once you have the green light, go for it!
Mix and mingle.  Apart for the 5-10 mins spent on the prayer offering, puja is by and large a social get together and not very religious so just join in.  Apart from our occasional snobbery, we are always humbled when anyone else wants to come along to our festivities, so I promise we will welcome you with open arms. Expect there to be booze at the puja.  It is strictly a no alcohol zone.  Instead what tends to happen is that the ‘young folk’ sneak away to the nearest pub once the puja dies away for a pint.  Go with them when you are thirsty.

Here are some photos from this year’s puja at Hampstead Townhall.

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Looking forward to next year but what sari do I wear??

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