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Program Information
WINGS: Women's International News Gathering Service
Kolkata's festival for a fierce Hindu Goddess
Weekly Program
Social scientist Dr Bula Bhadra; Dr Ruby Sain, professor of the Centre for the study of Religion and Society; Sanskrit professor and woman priest Nandini Bhowmick.
 WINGS: Women's International News Gathering Service  Contact Contributor
Durga is a major Hindu Goddess, whose many powers include motherhood, war, and the destruction of all evil. Puja is a term for ceremonial worship. The 10-day Durga Puja celebrated in Kolkata, India, in September/October, has been inscribed by UNESCO in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. WINGS' producer in Kolkata, Kalpana Pradhan, interviewed women scholars and a woman priest about the history and changing sociology of Durga Puja - which is now in the hands of organizations, politicians, and women who newly claim the right to officiate and drum.
Recorded, narrated and produced by Kalpana Pradhan; WINGS series producer, Frieda Werden
Transcript (near-final)
Today on WINGS, our topic is the Durga Puja. Durga is a major Hindu Goddess. Puja is a word for any kind of ceremonial worship. But in Kolkata, India, the Durga Puja has a history of being as much or more about public display and festivities, going on for a period of ten days around late September and early October. UNESCO inscribed Kolkata's Durga Puja into its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in December 2021. Our reporter in Kolkata, Kalpana Pradhan, conducted interviews about Durga Puja for WINGS. She found it started out as a private display for Indian elites and their colonizers, then became a public celebration for everyone. Recently, organizations and political parties have been laying claim to festivities - and feminists have claimed women's rights to be celebrants of this powerful goddess, whose powers include the destruction of all evil.

[WINGS sound logo]

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Script (near-final)

Sound of drum beats….

K.P. link 1— The festival of Durga Puja promises to truly worship female power or 'worship of Divine Mother', the festival of pomp and power -- is the greatest socio-religious extravaganza of the Bengali Hindus. It is one of the cultural carnivals and street art festival celebrated in the month of September or October every year in India, most notably in Kolkata of West Bengal, the Eastern part of India. The goddess is rarely worshiped as a household deity, hardly has a temple dedicated to her, but is venerated and celebrated within communities in the biggest way,as said the eminent social scientist Dr Bula Bhadra.

Voice of Bula Bhadra- clip1. English

Bula Bhadra -—Durga Puja is never a religious festival, it was not even a public festival but it was private festival more or less belong into rich people, Zamindars(collectors of land revenue) and other well to do people.Today the Bengali community all over the World celebrates Durga Puja is more carnivalistic spirits. Durga is not only the source of feminine power only,she is associated with protection, strength, destruction war and also motherhood. Actually Durga means end of all evils. When Durga comes into the earth with her family, she comes as a destroyer of evil things, initiated of good things.

K.P.Link 2— As per experts during the 18th and 19th centuries, the wealthy used the Durga Puja to exhibit their power and social status before their colonial masters. And during pre-independence time, British people also enjoyed the festival, explained the social scientist Dr Bula Bhadra-

Voice of Bula Bhadra- clip2. English

Bula Bhadra - Close collaboration with the British and Bengal merchants, also evident from the facts that the British thoroughly enjoyed the Puja celebrations and patronized that. There were be stiff competition influential merchants. The Tagore family and Gandha Banik family are the two most prominent examples of extravagance Durga Puja celebrations accompanied with idols adorned in glod and precious stones. Accounts of the Durga Puja in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, half a month of festivities, was showcasing enormous wealth.

K.P.Link 3—How did Goddess Durga become a symbol of nationalism?

Voice of Bula Bhadra- clip3. English

Bula Bhadra - The end of nineteenth century and beginning of twentieth century the urban mercantile character of the Puja celebrations under goes a sudden shift. This was the time of nationalist called into rise up in service of the nation could be heard echoing all across Bengal. The image of Durga was employed in the nationalism project in two ways. On the one hand she was looked upon the symbol of strength and divinity, who rescue the nation from difficult times it was going through. On the other hand she was looked upon as embodiment definition itself, rescue in her being the primary responsibility of her sons. One of the first instances of association between the nation and the goddess in Bankim Chandra’s celebrated novel “Anandamath”, written in 1882.Which made “Vande Mataram”, the most popular battle cry of nationalism. The lead article on Durga Puja in 1903, a journal of Bengali stated that the Durga image was the embalmed of our Indian nationality.

K.P link 4.--And then the beginning of the 20th century, different localities started using it to exhibit the strength and creative excellence of their neighbourhood. At present, the Puja organising clubs use it to draw more crowds towards them, trying to stun the visitors with innovations, execution and finesse in idol making, pandal designing and lights. How the flavor of the festival has changed was explaining Dr Ruby Sain,prof of the Centre for the study of Religion and Society.

Voice of Dr Ruby Sain-English

RUBY SAIN- “Durga Puja festival is one kind one kind of symbol,through which we are integrated, we are solidified, we can say one kind of melting pot of all kind of people. So Durga Puja is very very important for us because it is the number one festival not only Bengal but number one rituals within the Hinduism.

Previously we have seen that there was Durga Puja actually dominated by the elite people in a society.Say for examples like kings and Zamindars or land revenue collectors, they were the main pioneer for initiating Durga Puja. But after certain kind it became public and then it was Barwari Durga. So Barwari Durga Puja has different characteristic and elite society Durga Puja was different characteristic. But now a days, post modernity it has been dominated by the local clubs and it has been designated theme based Durga Puja.So Durga Puja is really changing its flavor, its features everything. And recently the Durga Puja has been highly politicized,what was private matter now it has been exposed into the public matter. So religion has been exposed into the public matter and Durga Puja is the symbol. This is the power clash between the two governments, BJP government and TMC government.Thats why they are utilizing Durga Puja because it is the easiest way to suppress the main problems. In other states you can see different kind of festivals not in such a way”.

K.P.link 5- Over the past few years, the Pujas in Kolkata have seen the state ruling Party Trinamul Congress or TMC and central ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP competing to inaugurate Pujas in Kolkata. So now a days the political parties using the biggest festival as their political agendas, was narrated elaborately Prof Bula Bhadra-

Voice of Bula Bhadra- clip4.(English)

Bula Bhadra-—See Political parties using festivities are nothing new. It happens in all developing countries are now. Because they try to master support whenever there are people gathering in huge numbers. This particular Durga Puja is being sometimes used as a part of extended political ideology. In fact for four decades the CPIM or Communist Party of India (Marxist) they gave book stalls in Puja pandels, consciously attended to downplay the very nature of the festival to displayed the party festoons, circulars and documents. In a way, the slightly more politisication by Trinamul Congress or (TMC), they actually thought that Puja Committees as some of them are exhibits their allegiance to her government and her party colleagues begun to associates with some of the biggest Durga Puja organizers in the state, little more than ten years on. The TMC’s political monopoly about Puja and it has been a challenge by the BJP(Bharatiya Janata Party). Who have massive enrolls in the last Loksabha election (Parliamentary election) in West Bengal, seemingly discovering the potential to use the single most important festival to push through it. The BJP thinks that Durga and all these god and goddesses are Hindu and the Hindutva as a the platform for uniting Hindu-India. Everybody actually tries to connect people of Bengal through Durga Puja festival. So using Durga Puja as political instrument for half a century or so.

[drum]

On WINGS, you are listening to interviews by Kalpana Pradhan, conducted in Kolkata, India, where the goddess Durga is celebrated for 10 days in the autumn every year.

K.P.link 6— Over the years much like the iconography of the goddess, women’s engagement in Durgapuja has changed. As the festival moved out of the houses of elites on to the streets and lanes of the neighbourhood, so did many women who prepared the ritual offerings and other related chores. Now women are not only consumers of spectacle, but they are also involved in organizing, planning and logistic of this public ritual performance, from women clay modelers to puja organizer or to the traditional drummers. The women priest also coming forward to change the women role in the puja activities and now challenging patriarchy. Durga Puja means celebration of women hood as said the Sanskrit professor and women priest Nandini Bhowmick.

Voice of Nandini Bhowmick, clip1--.English.

Nandini Bhowmick –“Goddess Durga fights Mahisasur, the demon, she has weapons in her ten hands and those weapons she fights and wins over the demon, That is victory. So yes, DurgaPuja is celebration a victory of women hood. Womenfolk are get very much involved in arrangements and preparations because this preparations are so elaborate, the Puja goes on for five long days. And majority of the things are done by women, they get involved and make arrangements. On the tenth day of the festival women gather around with vermillion and sweets. They put vermillion and sweets on the goddess and share it each other also, we called it “Sindur Khela” in Bengali and that is a beautiful event. So yes, Durga Puja is a celebration of women hood. Yes preparations are done by women, the goddess is lady but few people have the courage to appoint women priests for this occasion. Women are not considered to be pure in all the days in a month. And I think this idea should be wiped out from our minds in this twenty first century. Another point, only those ladies whose husbands are alive are allowed to touch the deity and directly participate in the Puja activities, I have also strong objection in this point. Every lady whether unmarried, whether married, whether divorcee or widow or menstruation, everyone have equal rights for participation in the Puja. This is a celebration of women hood, celebration of humanity, everyone have rights to participate”.

K.P. link-7- Nandini, you did the puja in a different manner, more cultural way, could you please explain it?

Voice of Nandini Bhowmick, clip2--.English.

Nandini Bhowmick- “Subhamastu” that is the name of my priesthood team. We are four ladies Nandini,Ruma, Semanti and Poulomi. We really worked very hard in order to combat all the difficulties with regard to priesthood because our society is not still comfortable with women priests in religious ceremonies. I will give the main credit to the organizers, who appointed us as priests. We really jumped in to the preparation. And after studying the old scriptures for about the six months, we started scripting the puja procedure from the sixth day to the tenth day, it involves five days of rigorous ritualistic offering and yes we could do it very well. During the whole process we always thought of innovations that we would include the traditional Durga Puja keeping intact the traditional rituals as well. We included lots of songs not only Tagore songs but other poets also with suited the occasion. Because Bengali culture is very very rich culture so we had immense options and opportunities and it really worked out so well. Yes, there was bit of tensions whether people will accept our Puja or not but after the fist day, it was overwhelming response from social medias, print medias, television channels they covered the puja every single day.

So that was a huge experience. We performed in our own “Subhamastu” style, explaining every bit of what are the rituals we are doing? why we are doing? The mantras, Tagore verses, we use that Tagore poem also. And everybody was so happy. We are working again in this year also with more innovations. It was a beautiful experience”.

Sound of drum beats….

K.P. link 8--The State government took initiative to recognise the Women’s organizing Durga Puja as a separate category. Experts are saying that it is also a part of its political strategy to reach out to more and more women and the idea of community Durga Puja organized by women and inaugurated by woman state chief minister is a powerful message to the women to breaking the ritualistic barriers in the society.

Sound of drum beats….

Kalpana Pradhan,Wings,Kolkata,India.

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00:28:49 1 Oct. 2, 2022
Kolkata, West Bengal, India; Denman Island BC Canada
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