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What is Durga Puja?
The Mythology
Why is Durga Puja Called Akal Bodhon ?

by Dhriti Basu Mallik


Durga Puja of Bonedi Families at Kolkata
Author : Amitabha Gupta

Durga Puja in Zambia
by S. K. Sengupta


Mahishasurmardini on Bengal Terracotta
Mahishasurmardini on Bengal Terracotta
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DELHI and NCR
by Shouvik Basak


MURSHIDABAD
Berhampore, Lalbagh,  Raghunathganj, Jangipur
by Nilkantha

Kumortuli 2010
by Rangan Datta

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Durga Puja in Africa

2014: 37th year of Durga Puja at Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

 



Kumar Biswas

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 2014

 
Today, Durga Puja is more of a socio-cultural-commercial event rather than a purely religious ceremony. In the modern world, celebration of Durga Puja outside India is not a matter of surprise. Wherever Indians are there - or to be precise, a section of Bengalis are there, Durga Puja is organised. Be it Singapore, USA, UK or any other far off land.

While in India, I had been part and parcel of many Durga Pujas either with active or passive participation. By active participation I meant being an integral part of organising committee. On the other hand, many a times I had been a passive spectator of puja functions. There my involvement was limited to offering anjali, eating bhog, touring one pandal from another etc. The nature of association with puja had varied from place to place. So far I've celebrated Durga puja in India at several states viz. West Bengal (Kolkata and smaller towns of central and north Bengal), Bihar, Maharashtra (Mumbai when it was Bombay), New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh (NOIDA) etc. But, honestly speaking I had never imagined that someday I would celebrate Durga Puja outside India and that too at a distant and dark continent - Africa.

Last year (2013) there was a move on professional ground and I landed up at Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, a small country on the east coast of Africa. I find a strange similarity between the design of maps of India and Africa, though the former is a country, while the later is a continent. Interestingly, the location of Tanzania is in eastern side of the continent albeit at a place similar to the position of West Bengal in the Indian map. I had to face great difficulty to explain to a local friend the name of West Bengal while it is on the east coast of India! Well, that is a different story.

 2013 : Entrance of Durga Puja Mandap 2013 : Maa Durga and her Family

Bango Sangho is the association of Bengalis at Dar Es Salaam. It's average membership, at any given point of time is around 100. Out of 100 members, about 60% are with families and balance 40% are MBAs (Married But Alone). The process of Bengali intake to Dar Es Salaam and outgo on an average remains at equilibrium and therefore the number remains steady.

This year (2014), we are organising the 37th year of Durga Puja at Dar Es Salaam. It is not an easy task to make such a massive arrangement at such a far off land and maintaining the tradition, year after year. The most interesting part is that like the logo of amazon.com, we've had to do 'a to z' ourselves. The executive committee is formed by a democratic (?) process wherein responsibilities are bestowed upon members to perform as everybody is hard pressed on the professional front. Membership fees are classified based on family status. Interestingly, subscription is an one time affair of the year. This annual contribution takes care of major administrative overheads of Mahalaya evening, Anandamela, Durga Puja, Laxmi Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, annual picnic etc. This is the point of difference from Durga Puja of nearby Nairobi, the capital of Kenya where though Durga Puja is held, other pujas like Laxmi Puja, Kali Puja etc are not.

Budget is prepared, subscriptions are raised and advertisements are collected for souvenirs. Members volunteer for sponsorship of bhog for different days and other puja activities. Finance is in interchangeable terms of US $ as well as Tanzanian Shilling.

Most of the systems have been standardised over the years e.g. venue, menu etc. The idols are of reusable cardboard structure which after Puja, find place in the house of some devotee. Thus immersion is hassle free and environment friendly. On the day of Vijaya Dasami arrangement is made for disposal of puja flowers etc.

Dhaak imported from Kolkata

 

Though all the paraphernalia for Durga Puja was planned to the last detail, we had to compromise for the dhaak. At the time of aarati or home, the puja hall used to reverberate with the beats of African drums, played in the rhythm of desi dhaak. To overcome the limitation a decision was taken in the first meeting of Durga Puja (2013) that this year one dhaak would be imported from Kolkata. It is easier said than done but we did. In a well coordinated effort, a dhaak was purchased at Kolkata and boarded a ship. After a three months long journey, touching several ports of the world, it landed at Dar Es Salaam port much after Durga Puja. So what? With due customs clearance we took possession of that piece of jewel and played with heart's content on the night of Shyama puja.

 

 

In the neighbouring country of Kenya, Durga Puja is held at the capital of Nairobi. It is organised by Kenyan Bengalis under the banner of Kenya Bengalee Cultural & Welfare Society. The history of Bengalis at Kenya is centuries old. As per available data it is well known that during late 1800s and early 1900s, the Mittras and Ghoses had arrived at Kenya. Shri Basanta Kumar Mittra, his wife Smt. Jagamaya Mittra with three sons had disembarked at the port of Mombasa, Kenya in 1898. He was appointed as Railway officer at Nairobi. Post retirement he had not returned to India. Instead he had opened a general shop under the name of 'B K Mittra & Sons' and had lived in the house that he had built. It was a landmark as "Pangani Bari" at that time. In 1914, another Bengali gentleman named Shri Brojo Madhav Ghose joined the Bengali group there from Burma. He was a railway employee too. They had brought the Bengali culture with them to Kenya. Bengalee Overseas Association was formed in 1950. To imbibe the Bengali culture and teach the Bengali language to the new generation, a school 'Bani Mandir' was established in 1952. Bengali classes were held in the afternoon of every Saturdays and Sundays. These Kenyan Bengalis are carrying the Bengali tradition on foreign soil, generation after generation. Today Durga Puja at Nairobi is being performed by the third and fourth generation of Bengalis. The venue is Maharashtra Mandal (since 1998) for them which is equivalent to The Hanuman Physical Culture Institute (established in 1937) at Temple Street where the Durga Puja of Dar Es Salaam is held every year. In 2012, they flew in a Bengali purohit to Nairobi, all the way from New Delhi. Incidentally, he is known to me. It was a strange juxtaposition that in 2012 Durga Puja he was at Nairobi and I was at New Delhi. In 2013 during Durga Puja I had reached the same place at Nairobi from New Delhi and he was at New Delhi. I could not resist myself from mentioning the fact that puja souvenir of Nairobi carries the message from His Excellency High Commissioner of Bangladesh, along with others. If the reader is not yet surprised, then I should mention that the Poila Boishak of one of the recent years of Kenya Bengalee Cultural & Welfare Society was attended by His Excellency High Commissioner of Pakistan.

Last year (2013) I had attended Durga Puja at Dar Es Salaam only for the day of Sosthi and for rest of the days of the puja I was at Nairobi. The time was just after the terrorist attack at Westgate Mall of Nairobi. So the functions of Durga Puja at Nairobi were held during day time and no program or gathering was allowed at night by the administration due to security reasons.

On the day of Nabami I got an opportunity to visit Nairobi National Park. This is the National Park closest to human habitation in the world. Believe it or not the distance of the entry gate of Nairobi National Park from International airport of Nairobi is just 11 kms.

 

While taking safari inside the park I was feeling sad about missing the Puja of Mahamaya. Suddenly, in the grassland a majestic Lion appeared very close to me. A thought came to my mind that though I missed the darshan of Devi, I have seen her Bahan!

 
Entrance to Nairobi National Park "...though I missed the darshan of Devi,
I have seen her Bahan!"
 



Mr, Kumar Biswas : An Introduction


The writer, Mr. Kumar Biswas was born on an auspicious day of Saraswati Puja at Bhagalpur, Bihar in early Nineteen Sixties. During childhood, he had studied at a Christian convent run under the Diocese of Patna. Later part of academics was done at Ramkrishna Mission, Nerendrapur, West Bengal. Professionally a Chemical Engineer and working in oil & gas industry for more than 30 years, trained in best practices in Petroleum logistics and distribution at Oxford. His academic pursuit ended after acquiring MBA degree in International Trade from Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi at the age of 50. Currently working as Head of Operations & Projects with one of top five oil marketing company of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa.
His first article was published in a wall magazine when he was a student of class VI. Till date the number of his published articles, features, poems, short stories, travelogues etc. have exceeded hundred. He has equal flair of writing both in Bengali and English. "Pilatus: The dragon mountain of Switzerland" (in Bengali) was published in one Sharadiya issue of travel magazine 'Bhraman'. "Philately - the king of hobbies and Indian Oil" was the cover story in one of the issues of 'IndianOil News' - the in-house journal of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.

His hobby is philately or stamp collection. His articles in Bengali on 'Stamp collection' and 'Perfumed stamps' were published in Saptahik Bartaman and Bartaman daily, respectively. He is an Energy Philatelist i.e. he collects postage stamps on energy viz. oil & gas, storage & transportation, Renewable resources like Solar, Wind, Biomass, Geothermal etc.

A few links of his recent e-articles are as under:

  1. Giraffe Centre Nairobi
  2. Manyara Wildlife Safari Camp Lake (Manyara National Park) - Arusha Region

His family is animal lover. A short film on his better half can be found here

 

 

Related article : Durga Puja in Zambia

 

 
     
 

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