Durga Puja in Sydney 2022

Bengali Association of New South Wales have brought back the colour and culture to Sydney with their recent festivities for Durga Puja.

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Durga Puja comes every year, but it has returned to Sydney in 2022 after a two year hiatus. Ask any traditional Bengali about the gap and the response will be one of grave disappointment. Therefore it came as no surprise that the Durga Puja organised by the Bengali Association Of New South Wales (BANSW) was attended in huge numbers. Notwithstanding the dark clouds and rain, the mood at the BANSW venue in Concord High School was upbeat. The BANSW Durga Puja was held at the Sydney school for three days starting on Friday 30 September 2022.

Food servers volunteering at festival celebrations
Source: Uttam Mukherjee

A major draw for the BANSW Durga Puja is the Anandomela. This is a food festival organised on the evening before the Puja. Thirteen stalls dished out a wide variety of food – fish fry, fish chops, paani-puri, biryani, poori (loochi as it’s called in Bengal) and aloo dum, egg roll, chicken and mutton dishes, and delicious sweets. Except for one, all stalls were operated by individual enthusiasts showcasing their culinary skills. The exception was the food stall run as a fundraising event by volunteers for a Sunderbans based social enterprise called Mukti.

The BANSW Durga Puja was well attended on all the days. The festive atmosphere in the venue was palpable. The Puja not only serves as a place to show your respect to Goddess Durga but also as a venue for social gathering and interaction. Enthusiasm on social media platforms such as Facebook was huge. Comments and videos were being uploaded constantly.

Idols of Hindu gods and goddesses at Durga Puja celebrations
Source: Uttam Mukherjee

The idols are made by artists in Kumartuli, the traditional hub of potters in northern Kolkata, renowned for their sculpting prowess. Clay idols for various festivals are made there; many of them are regularly exported. The idols used at the BANSW venue last for four to five years; the current idols were imported from Kumartuli in 2018. Unlike the idols in India, these are not immersed each year but locked away until the next Durga Puja.

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Drum (dhak) beats form an integral element of Durga Puja. The dhak and dhaki (the player of the instrument) are ubiquitous with the ceremonies. In this year’s BANSW Puja, a significant addition was Gobinda Das, a dhaki from West Bengal. I was pleasantly surprised as he beat up a rhythm to infuse the mood of the Puja amongst all. He continued to do so for the entire Puja period.

Worshipper praying at Durga Puja celebration
Source: Uttam Mukherjee

I must add an interesting anecdote about the purohit (priest) who conducts the ceremonies for Durga Puja. Anup Kumar Mukerji (Anup da) has been performing Durga Puja for the BANSW since 1986. He is not a purohit by profession but started on this journey when a vacuum was created suddenly with the last purohit couldn’t conduct the ceremony any longer. Growing up in a country town in West Bengal, Anupda was exposed to traditional Durga Puja at his home, but he never was involved actively in the Durga Puja ceremonies. He left for studies overseas at an early age but was always inspired by the traditions of the Puja. Anupda is a Metallurgical Engineer by profession. When asked how he came to be a purohit, he replied that he was motivated to serve the Bengali community and its interests. It was not an easy start as Anupda had to buy books, learn the mantras and the ceremonies and prepare for the Puja. Even now, he prepares for every Puja like a student preparing for an examination – such is his dedication!

Festivities enjoyed by the attendees
Source: Uttam Mukherjee

The Durga Puja is one of the many events that the BANSW organises every year. The founders of BANSW in 1975 came together to build and spread the Bengali way of love, laughter, food, music, art and all things that make us so very quintessentially Bengali. Hats off to the BANSW members and volunteers who made this year’s Puja a worthwhile experience. Finally, a special thanks on behalf of all the attendees, for Anupda – we certainly owe at least this much to him for all these years of dedicated service to the community.

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Uttam Mukherjee
Uttam Mukherjee
A quiet observer who likes to tell a story

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