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Durga Puja in Communist China!

Durga Puja in Communist China!

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When the blind lanes in life suddenly open up to shed a light that was never there on sea or land, it becomes an occasion for celebration. The author narrates how he has gone through an identical experience in China.

The beauty of life lies in its unpredictability.

As they say, miracles happen when you want something desperately. It was something waiting to happen for me too.

For someone who has had aversion towards anything religious since childhood, despite growing up in a deeply religious Brahmin family in West Bengal, performing Durga Puja as a priest was nothing but a transformational journey.

Believe it or not, that is what exactly happened to me last year !

The author at the Indian Embassy, China
The author at the Indian Embassy, Beijing, China

I went as a priest to the Chinese capital Beijing just two months before the deadly COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

Ever since I returned from Delhi after quitting my journalist’s job in the national media to start a career as a social entrepreneur back in my hometown in northern parts of West Bengal amidst forest and hills, I discovered myself leaning towards religion and spiritualism.

I felt a strong connection with an eternal force just like my father, whose obsession with religion once made me a rebel.

But five years ago, to my utter surprise, I realised I was fast becoming like him.

My father used to perform Durga Puja at our home in Rajganj, a small place in Jalpaiguri district, every year. Four years back, I decided to learn the nuances of puja from him.

However, I could not realise my wish until last year when I got a call from my Beijing-based journalist friend Suvam Pal who offered me the opportunity to perform Durga Puja in the Chinese capital as a purohit (priest).

New challenges always excite me. Thrilled, I called up Baba (father). He is not a professional purohit but loves to perform all sorts of pujas at home.

He assured me that he would teach me how to perform such a puja in no time as, according to him, ‘it’s something in my blood’.

When I started to perform Durga Puja under the tutelage of my father, I found out that there were several mantras I knew by default since I had been listening to them from my childhood.

Biswajit Jha with the Chinese Consul General Zha Liyou, his wife and Vikram Misri Indian Ambassador to China
Biswajit Jha with the Chinese Consulate General Zha Liyou, his wife and Vikram Misri, the Indian Ambassador to China

The enthusiasm regarding the puja was so much that the Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri inaugurated it along with Zha Liyou, the Chinese consul general, in Kolkata.

After my theoretical lessons, I got down to the practical part of doing the puja in our house. Since Beijing’s puja would take place after our puja, I got the chance of playing a ‘practice match’ before my real test in China.

This event drew a lot of media attention as almost every newspaper and news channel of West Bengal covered it religiously.

But every great story has a twist at the last moment; mine too was not an exception.

Just seven days before leaving India, I cut my left elbow badly while playing football. I had to start my journey towards China with 13 stitches on my body.

It was a test I felt Ma Durga had stored for me.

Braving the physical pain, I, along with my wife and son, reached the Chinese capital one day before the puja and performed it successfully!

It was a historic event, as it was for the first time Durga Puja was to take place inside the Indian embassy in Beijing.

The enthusiasm regarding the puja was so much that the Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri inaugurated it along with Zha Liyou, the Chinese consul general, in Kolkata.

Biswajit performing the puja
Biswajit performing the aarti

As many as 50 Bengali families among hundreds of Indian families took part in it. Many local Chinese people also came to watch the unique event.

Among them came one Chinese youth who bowed down to the goddess, as he claimed, he had a dream of a Hindu mother deity who looked similar to Goddess Durga.

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It was such a success that the Ministry of External Affairs uploaded the news of this event on their official Facebook and Twitter handles.

The organisers, Beijing Bongs, did a fabulous job by arranging the idols of the Ma Durga and other puja materials from Kolkata.

Biswajit and his wife Dr. Sanjukta Saha with the members of "Beijing Bongs"
Biswajit and his wife Dr. Sanjukta Saha with the members of “Beijing Bongs”

Everything was near perfect.

It was a real festive atmosphere inside the embassy as different cultural events took place in the evenings. Many Bengali cuisines, including Khichdi, luchi-tarkari, chicken, fish and mutton were made, much to the delight of all the participants.

A Bengali chef, Rabiul Baksh, who worked at Hyatt Regency in Beijing, was given the responsibility of satisfying the taste buds of the Bengalis.

We stayed at my friend-cum-main organiser Suvam Pal’s apartment. After the puja, Suvam da and his charming wife Rituparna took us to different places in Beijing, including The Great Wall of China, Beijing Zoo, the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Tiananmen Square, etc.

Biswajit and his wife Dr. Sanjukta Saha with the organiser Suvam Pal
Biswajit and his wife Dr. Sanjukta Saha with the organiser Suvam Pal

They also gave us the experience of eating at the famous Hai DiLao Hotpot and a Bengali restaurant in China. We are still overwhelmed with their hospitality during our stay in Beijing.

On the way back, we travelled to Shanghai, the business capital of China, where my son Shreejit (Zico) had a great time in Disney Land.

biswajit doing the Puja

Though this year I won’t be able to attend the event due to the pandemic, my heart remains very much with the organisers and my support with the ‘make-shift’ purohit Gautam Bhattacharya, a senior embassy official currently posted in China.

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