Celebrating Puja in Kolkata

I witnessed “Durgapuja” aka “Puja” in Kolkata last October straight after 4 years. Puja, for those who are not familiar with the term, is the biggest Hindu festival of Eastern part of India, Kolkata being the center of attraction. As an absolute non-religious person, Puja was never really of any significance but even a die-hard atheist like me couldn’t really deny the effect of nostalgia and memory it used to bring along.

From my early childhood, the religious part of the festival couldn’t lure me, but the vivacious mood did. Puja is about people. It’s about watching everyone bubbling with happiness.

I, who never took part in any kind of religious ritual, used to gladly join the Puja special “impromptu dance” with a clay-pot full of incense and used to have a gala time with my friends. The rhythm of the puja special drum is actually supposed to celebrate the victory of good over evil but is transformed into pure fun.

For some, the five-day daily ritual is a colossal waste of money, resources and energy. An extremely conservative estimate of just conducting the festival in Kolkata merely sums up to a hefty 28 million USD. This is only to decorate the city, create the make-shift shade for idols, all of which are temporary and disposed off after the celebration. The amount, when converted into Indian Rupees, is outrageous – I agree. This figure doesn’t count the retail business volume which comes as a fringe.

I understand the pundits have facts and figures with them, but what they do not have is a device to measure happiness.

I agree, 28 million USD spent in some social work possibly could make Kolkata the best city in the world. But what about generating ample means of earning through various jobs that are created this time of the year? It’s simply mind boggling to observe the glee in the little girl’s smile in my neighborhood who probably gets to meet her dad only this time every year who saves money for the occasion, shops for the whole family and comes home.

How can I miss the awe-struck look of the little boy who gets to enjoy the festive-grandeur with his family?

Only at this time I thank my religion for bringing so much joy and laughter in every one’s life. And invariably the question comes to my mind is – is festival and celebration always embedded in religion? What if we eliminate the religious part of the festival? Will it still hold the same flavor? I don’t think so.

This yearly religious festival is ingrained in our culture in such a way we can’t just disregard its significance. In fact, I think we shouldn’t.

This festival brings everyone together under one umbrella – irrespective of race, religion, caste and creed. The purpose, as I understand of any religion is to bring peace and if it can be achieved through a festival like this, we should have more festival from all the religion in the world instead of war.

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