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Houston Durga Pujo: Mother In The US!

Houston Durga Pujo: Mother In The US!

It was a huge affair, with between 3,000 to 5.000 people from across USA, and though in the COVID-19 year it will not be celebrated, the memory of past years linger

By Abhijnan Chattopadhyay

Houston Durgabari is a permanent temple located just outside the city of Houston.

Construction of the temple was completed in September 2000 and the first Pujo was held in October 2000. The temple appointed a permanent priest for Durga Pujo and Nityo Pujo in November 2003.

The temple serves not only as hosts to major religious events like Durga Pujo, Lakshmi Pujo and Kali Pujo, but also organises other social and cultural events for the Bengali diaspora in Houston and adjoining areas.

Durga Murti

Durgabari used to have clay idols till 2006, which were replaced by ashtodhatu idols that are worshipped till this day.

In addition to individual idols of Durga and her four children, there are also idols of Kali and Radha-Krishna on each side of the Durga idol, along with a Shivalinga to the right of the Durga idol.

The pujo is held typically on the weekend closest to the actual dates they are celebrated in Bengal, with Friday being celebrated as shashthi/saptami.

In years when the pujo dates fall during the weekend, this might change to coincide with the actual dates.

 

Houston Durga Bari

However, in years when the dates do not fall during the weekend, a small pujo is still performed on the actual dates. Sunday is always Dashami, or Nabami-Dashami together, if mandated by the panjika.

In-person Durga Pujo attracts around 3,000, (according to their website) and up to 5000 (according anecdotal evidence) devotees over the three-day period, with Saturday, when the Ashtami Pujo is celebrated, always recording the largest gathering.

Anjali is typically carried out in batches.

Flowers are not thrown at the idol; instead they are collected by volunteers in large bowls/plates and taken to the idols’ feet.

On most Ashtami Pujos this expat has attended, there are people queuing outside for at times hours, waiting to get into the temple to offer anjali, since only a limited number of people (I believe it is under 500) are allowed inside the temple simultaneously to adhere to the fire code.

 

Bhog offered to Maa Durga

After anjali, bhog is offered to the idols – fruits, khichuri, luchi, torkari, chutney and sweets,- and a line of women hold saris sewn together to make one long, continuous piece of fabric to hide the Gods partaking of their offering in front of the devotees.

That is usually also when the devotees are asked to leave and line up for food.

During Nabami Pujo, there is bolidaan or sacrifice, but obviously not of a live animal.

Typically, the three sacrificial “lambs” are rather large gourds (lau), bananas and stalks of sugarcane, all smothered in shindur (I assume as a substitute for blood), and chopped in one fell swoop using a rather ominous looking machete, also smothered in shindur.

Dhunuchi Dance

Announcements during the service are typically done over the microphone in Bangla, followed by a translation in English.

The first time this expat attended the Pujo, the person making the announcements about anjali said “Pushpo(flowers) taken for anjali should be kanika matro“, if that does not define the Bengali immigrant experience in the melting pot that is America, I do not know what does!

Also, the practice of making announcements in English has become more common with time, since the Pujo is attracting more and more non-Bengalis every year.

Devotees have the opportunity to offer pujo personally, like they can at Kalighat or Puri temple. Donations are encouraged from all attendees, but never openly solicited.

Prasad is offered to everyone irrespective of whether they have registered for the Pujo.

People who register for the Pujo are entitled to two or three meals every day for the three days.

All meals offered by Durga Pujo are usually vegetarian, but in recent years, they have been serving fish curry and fish fry among other things for an extra price, typically in the evenings.

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Most of the food is prepared on-site. Food is served on the grounds outside the temple under large tents.

It is a fun experience to sit and eat with those many people, even in a country that prides itself on making things large.

Sindur Khela

As for registration, they used to offer registration only for the entire period, which a lot of people including students or people from outside of Houston were hesitant to do.

In recent years, they have instituted registration for specific days.

There is a Dashami tradition at Durgabari to serve pathar mangsho(mutton curry) and rice for dinner.

They reportedly buy around 200 kgs (up to 400/500kgs, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed) of goat meat for the purpose and it is cooked in huge pots by multiple cooks using a supposedly secret recipe.

That is something you do not want to miss.

Bisarjan

Photographs by Priyanka Chatterjee and Dr. Abhijnan Chattopadhyay

 

Dr. Abhijnan Chattopadhyay

AbhijnanDr. Chattopadhyay is a biomedical scientist who researches heart disease. Originally from Kolkata, he has lived in the Houston area for the last thirteen years. He is a big lover of food, a versatile cook, and fanatical in reading, books and cinema.

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