Through his sketch of Durga Puja in London, the author has tried to portray how the celebration has grown from strength to strength in the UK
By Proshanta Purokayastha
The Durga Puja is the most important religious festival for Bengalis all over the world in this modern era. Few other festivals occupy so much media coverage as these 40 plus Durga puja venues in the UK, particularly in London and its suburb every year.
Durga puja symbolises victory over evil; Durga puja and Kali puja (Diwali – the festival of lights) celebrations have a significant effect on our cultural identity for their inclusiveness of inviting the members of a multicultural society.
Having come to the UK in 1986 and settling here permanently, I got myself involved in the community welfare and charity work alongside my fulltime job as a civil servant.
Established in 1983, Sanaton Association, a Bengali Hindu Association, celebrates the great festival of Durga puja in East London area.
Even though we have priests in the UK, we always invite them from India, Bangladesh and Canada for big occasions because of increasing festivals in different cities.
Over the period of time, Sanaton Association became bigger and better in serving community as a whole in the UK. Robin Paul, an enthusiastic and dedicated young person, who took over as the general secretary, began working hard to improve community services.
Specially, the Durga puja celebrations became a very popular event in the UK. Sanaton Association received international festival of the year award from the government of West Bengal.
In Sanaton Association, we maintain our rituals and culture of origin from Bangladesh (East Bengal) which gradually spread across Assam, Dharmanagar, Shillong and other Indian subcontinent.
We follow the time table on traditional calendar to perform Pujas for a day or five days as appropriate. We used to get the Durga idol, Dhak – Dhol (Drums), other instruments and accessories of Puja and Sandhya Arati from Kolkata.
Devotees always take time off from work to join puja with family members for pushpanjali and visit pujas in London and other cities. We arrange prasad, fruits, khichuri, vegetable curry, payesh (rice pudding).
Sandhya Arati (Puja in the evening) is the greatest attraction of all in the evening. Daily cultural functions include various children and adult’s performances along with the most popular Dhamail dance, drama, quiz competitions for children, Conch Shell competition for adults.
Vijaya Dashami celebration is always a spectacular event, with women playing vermillion after their offerings to Ma Durga. Sanaton Association started the process of immersion procession in the River Thames with the permission of local authority and water regulatory body.
A very homely and traditional atmosphere attracts between three and four thousand visitors every year. We publish bilingual magazine ‘Sanaton Darshan’ with the message from Prime Minister, MPs, Mayor of London and High Commissioners.
We also take part in community TV talk show on Durga puja in the UK. Special guests include MPs, High Commissioners, Mayors, Councillors and other distinguished personalities from multicultural community. We invite guests from wider communities and promote community cohesion through all festivals.
Proshanta Purokayastha is a BA (Hons) MA, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is the Trustee and vice chairman of Sanaton Association. He is also the Founding member, trustee and Chairman of Bangladesh Hindu Association(UK)