November 23, 2015

A Journey of Firsts: Birbhum, 2015

by Niloy Duttagupta

In what is an account on how festivals are still a coming together of an entire village as a community, in rural India, Niloy Duttagupta tells us about his journey with his neighbourhood priest to Birbhum – to an ‘unglamorous’, but festive Durga Puja.

All photo credits: Nabakali Chatterjee

Move aside grand themed pandals, posh localities, sponsored food stalls, gate passes and crowded parking lots with overtly excited, Anglicized Bengali folk from the conundrum that usually finds abode in the likes of Chittaranjan park (New Delhi), Lake town or College Square (Kolkata) and the likes during Durga Puja every year.

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Nabakali Chatterjee

This year, in a journey of firsts, we took part in a passage that was catalysed by Nabakali Chatterjee, a mildly enthusiastic septuagenarian who doubles up as the neighbourhood priest and a consulting astrologer, who wanted to visit his ancestral village of Ranipathor in Birbhum, West Bengal for Durga Puja. We moved on from our mundane flight to Kolkata, onto the humbling Mayurakshi fast passenger express, planked up in our chair cars for a 2-hour, 170 km trip to our destination.

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The early morning rituals.

The autumn sun here was like no other; the heat would tickle our backs with minor pricks, yet the temperature remained moderate. We were a day late, but the shenanigans were already in place and effected by the entire baroari (public).

The puja was organised at the local club, which utilised the neighbouring, vast expanses of the Government High School to powerful effect. Bhog was a meticulous affair, with a combined work force of youngsters and veterans functioning with exceptional efficacy to serve around 300 people in 3 batches for 4 days.

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Bhog afternoons in Ranipathor.

Mahasaptami turned out to be a cracker of a day, with the quarterfinals of Ranipathor Shield being held at the school grounds. The evenings turned out to be a treasure trove of experiences, with a rare display of talent indulging itself in Jatra (folk theatre) and Swang (ironical mimicry); backed by a boisterous crowd.

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“I’m 72, and I always miss this puja atmosphere when I’m in Delhi. In the cities, we have become much more obligatory towards this celebration -take office leaves, do shopping, it’s mundane, as if we all do it for the heck of it. Here, look at everyone – it’s like the entire village is out for a wedding feast!” declares Mr. Chatterjee.

The Bhashaan (idol immersion) was a spectacle: people carrying their goddess on their own shoulders to send her back to her abode – only to welcome her back again next year.

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Immersion in progress

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Evening entertainment, Jatras and Swang in progress.

Before leaving, Satyaki Majumdar, retired headmaster and one of the chief organisers, chuckles and tells us to drop by again next year. His repertory of young actresses; school girls mostly, are going to be the stars of next year’s awaited production.

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