From Russia, With Love, Durga Puja!
Casting a look down the memory lane, the writer seeks to paint the puja celebrations in a Communist country like Russia where the festivities, though subdued, are always observed with devotion
The first Durga Puja took place 30 years ago in the wake of Mr. Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” and “Glasnost” in Russia, where I was born and brought up.
As a kid, I became familiar with the Durga Puja in Moscow, Russia. During that time, my parents took active part in the Puja so that I get familiar with the Bengali culture.
Eventually, our family’s involvement with Puja was reduced as we got busier, but even now, we visit the Moscow Durga puja celebration every year without fail.
The Puja here is usually celebrated in the premises of Russian Peoples’ Friendship University’s Interclub(RPFUI).
It is not a weekend puja like many other NRI pujas, even though the Bengali community in the Russian capital is very small compared to other countries.
Puja rituals are observed here for five days according to the `panjika’ under the guidance of the Maharaja of Moscow Ramakrishna Mission(RKM).
The activities that take place every year can roughly be split into the religious, cultural, gastronomic and organizational sections.
One can take part in the activities that they find interesting and due to the puja being relatively small, you feel that your participation plays an important role in the process.
My parents, I remember, would make us kids act in Bengali dramas, recite poems etc. On the “Anandamela” (culinary contest) day, we could have our own food stalls and buy lottery tickets for the lottery held after the cultural programme, held on the Navami day.
Every year, a puja magazine called “Aaratrika” is published containing the creative works of the children and adults.
There used to be a lot of intrigue and drama even outside the cultural programme that happened before and during puja meetings.
People use to simply panic that something might have gone wrong only to be relieved later in the wake of discovering, much to their surprise, that things are all in order !
In 2013, I had the maiden opportunity to see the Pujas in Kolkata. At first, it felt very loud and chaotic.
I couldn’t understand why was there such a rush to see all the pandals though I couldn’t deny all the hard work put in by the craftsmen in making those exquisite art works.
Nowadays, if the community is big and have enough resources, almost everything starting from the Durga idol to all puja samagris (materials), are sourced from India.
Even the artists for the puja cultural extravaganza can be flown in to any part of the world , but you possibly can’t transport the atmosphere which is so unique in India, specially Bengal.
Unlike Kolkata, it usually gets cold and gloomy during the Puja days in Moscow, Russia. In the celebration of Durga puja in a foreign land, not only Bengalis but other Indians and foreigners join the event.
It is very difficult for non-Bengalis to understand how we Bengalis eat non- veg during religious festivals. Perhaps, other than Bengalis, no one can understand our sentiments related to Durga Puja.
In my opinion, there is a very big difference between the pujas of Bengalis in their hometown and the pujas abroad. I am not talking about the size of the pandals or extravaganza.
Of course there are some limitations which give most of the NRI pujas a touch of “Barir pujo”, ( Pujas organized in homes).
I feel the joy of those fortunate Bengalis who can spend these five days in their hometown, is quite spontaneous.
But NRIs also try to celebrate these five days in a big way, otherwise, they perhaps cannot keep aside the nostalgic feelings and homesickness.
Last year was the jubilee year and hence, the Durga Puja in Moscow was celebrated in a grand way.
However, this year, due to the pandemic, Pujas in Moscow are being celebrated in a closed premise. Only RKM Maharaj, Pujaris and women will be attending the religious rites.
Richik teaches measure theory and convex optimization at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He is interested in philosophy. He likes both ‘shutki mach’ and caviar.