Durga Puja 2023 : A celebration of community and creativity

We’re bracing now for Sharad Utshob!

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It’s said that when five random Bengali families get together, they form a club – and then organise a community-level Durga Puja event!

This happens throughout the world, and Down Under it’s no exception. With over a hundred thousand Bengalis from India and Bangladesh living here, today we see the religious carnival organised widely by Bengali community associations in centres from Sydney to Perth. The number increases every year, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne where the oldest and largest are hosted by the Bengali Association of NSW and Bengali Association of Victoria respectively.

Hosting of this religious function as a public event began in Kolkata in the early 20th century when some interested community members initiated the celebration to be held within their localised area in makeshift temples, called ‘Pandals’. These were built using bamboo frames, tarpaulin and multi-coloured textiles at an outside venue open to all, irrespective of cast and creed. Durga Puja 2023

‘Pandal hopping’ is one of the favourite activities that people of Kolkata do during Durga Puja (Source: Supplied)

As community interest and participation increased, almost every suburb in Kolkata and throughout Bengal started organising these pujas. Over time these spread to other parts of India and overseas, becoming occasions for pageantry and entertainment.

Today, the four-day fiesta in the ‘City of Joy’, generally held as per the Hindu almanac in either September or October, is deemed as the greatest carnival on earth. Recently endorsed by UNESCO as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ the cityscape during the four days takes the shape of an open-plan, outdoor art gallery, camouflaging its concrete-jungle image with a canopy of these makeshift artistic displays and tints of magical lighting after sundown. Some take the shape of iconic structures like the St Peters Basilica in the Vatican, the Lotus Temple in Delhi, or the Parliament House in Budapest. So intricate is the quality of the craftsmanship that they all look like the original version.

Durga Puja 2023
World’s tallest building Burj Khalifa Themed Pandal in Kolkata (Source: Twitter)

There’s plenty of novelty in the pandals – with building materials such as soft drink bottle caps, old gramophone records, broken crockery, jewellery boxes, earthen pitchers and sugarcane pulp.

Pandal made form household items (Source:Twitter)

The innovative themes in the décor now blend antiquity with modernity, and range from exhibiting rural Bengal craftsmanship and Rajasthan folklore to Buddhist temples, British royalty, African jungles, even Brazilian football. Some organizers are brave enough to adopt themes around burning social issues such as religious harmony, empowerment of women, and climate change. Durga Puja 2023

The design and style of the deity also reflect the induction of talent.

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A pandal theme showcasing the plight of refugees (Source: Twitter)

Though it’s a Hindu religious affair, the festival is enjoyed by all irrespective of their faith. During the four days, Kolkata comes truly alive with joy and happiness with over a million people out in the streets hopping from one pandal to the other. It’s the spirit of this festival that, at least once a year, binds the community together. And the same spirit is ignited all over the world, from Sydney and Singapore to London, New York and Toronto wherever the community gets together to worship Mother Durga.

This year the festival dates are from 21-24 October.

Read More: Durga Puja added to UNESCO list

Sandip Hor
Sandip Hor
Writing is a passion for this culturally enthused and historically minded globe trotting freelancer

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