October 22, 2015

Durga Pujo - A madly bangali affair



What does Durga pujo mean to a Bengali? Vitality and teeming crowds, combining celebration with positive social action, Durga Pujo is a joyous occasion for all Bengalis in or outside Kolkata. In Bengal we have 13 festivals in 12 months of the year and Durga pujo is the crowning glory in our theme of revelries. Durga pujo in the City of Joy is like the Mardi Gras Carnival of Brazil.

The preparations start at least six months in advance, when the constructions of the elaborate pandals start. If you are part of a pujo organising committee, you tend to spend most of your time snooping around and trying to know what your rival organising committee is designing this time.

The trendy young ladies start racking their brains to come up with exclusive blouse and churidar designs which are given to tailors at least four months in advance. Two months before the pujo, the tailors flatly refuse to take orders even if you suck up to them in your best charming manner.

If you have any talent in music or dance, you volunteer for the local pandal as this is the perfect platform for winning accolades and attention. There will also be a ‘Natak’ or drama that will be performed by members of the organising committee. The rehearsals for this would start at least two months in advance. The participants would slog during the weekends or late into the night after ‘apish’ to give a perfect performance on the D-day. The dance, drama and musical programs by the local talent would be complemented by performances of renowned artists of Kolkata on Ashtami or Navami. From Shashti to Dashami, even the unkempt boy who wears baggy jeans and scruffy shirts would show up in the pandals in clean kurtas. During the day, women would wear designer sarees, but during the evenings many prefer to give the traditional wear a miss for chic cocktail wear. But the lal par shada saree remains a perennial favourite. A selfie wearing the white saree with the red border and a big red bindi is a must in front of the Durga idol. The same must also be uploaded as a Facebook profile picture.

Even Pele the legend from Brazil did the most Bengali thing feasible as he visited a Durga Pujo Pandal with Sourav Ganguly this year. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal also is not immune from the festive cheer. She decided to showcase her musical talent this year by penning the Durga pujo theme of Suruchi Sangha, one of the popular Pujo pandals of South Kolkata. Last year, she had started her celebrations by painting the third eye on the forehead of the idol of Durga at the Chetla Agrani Club in South Kolkata. The artist who had created the idol was presumably thrilled and delighted by the talented Chief Minister’s efforts to enhance his creation.

But the common Bengali would be quite content during this time with a bellyful of grub and gelusil in his pocket.

Author - Sharmistha Shenoy

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October 11, 2015

পুজো এসে গেল

Kolaj Pujabarshiki 2015


পুজো এসে গেল, বিশ্বের আপামর বাঙ্গালী এখন আকাশে ‘সাদা মেঘের ভেলা’ আর রোদ্দুরে পুজো, পুজো গন্ধ পেতে শুরু করে দিয়েছে। এ এক অদ্ভুত টান, শৈশব থেকে ঢাকের শব্দ, পাড়ার অঞ্জলি, নতুন জামা, আর ঠিক এক সপ্তাহ আগে ভোর চারটের মহালয়া, ‘বাজল তোমার আলোর বেণু’ ঠিক তখনই জানলা থেকে বাইরে তাকালে, ভোর রাতের আকাশের এক কোণে মনে হয়, ওই তো মা দুর্গা তৈরী হচ্ছেন, এই এলেন বলে। ব্রম্ভা, বিষ্ণু, মহেশ্বরের তেজ থেকে সৃষ্টি হলেন মা, শিব দিলেন ত্রিশূল, ব্রম্ভা দিলেন জপমালা আর কমণ্ডলু, ইন্দ্র দিলেন বজ্র,পবনদেব দিলেন শঙ্খ, এইসব বহু অস্ত্রে সুসজ্জিতা দেবী প্রস্তুত হলেন মহিষাসুর বধ করতে। এসব শুনতে, শুনতে পুজো এসে যায়। হায়দ্রাবাদের ‘বেঙ্গলিজ ইন হায়দ্রাবাদ’ গ্রুপেও এইরকম পুজো,পুজো নস্ট্যালজিয়া কাজ করে সবার মধ্যে,কিন্তু কেউ কেউ ভাবল, শুধুই ঘোরাফেরা,খাওয়া দাওয়ার বাইরে গিয়ে এই পুজোতে আমরাও কিছু একটা সৃষ্টি করে ফেলি। তাই কারুর ছোটগল্প, কারুর বড়গল্প, কবিতা, রম্যরচনা, ভ্রমণকাহিনী, শব্দছক আর সবার ওপরে একটা ইচ্ছের জোরে তৈরী হল ‘কোলাজ’, হায়দ্রাবাদের একমাত্র পূজাবার্ষিকী। হইহই করে এবারে তার সাত বছরের জন্মদিন। 

অফিস সামলে, প্রজেক্টের ডেডলাইন সামলে, যারা লেখা দিতে চায়, বসে যায় লিখতে, কেউ ছোটে ছোট-বড় রেস্টুরেন্ট,  দোকানগুলোয় স্পন্সরশিপের জন্য, কেউ খোঁজে ভাল আঁকা বা আঁকিয়ে, কোলাজের মলাট বানানোর জন্য, কেউ আসানসোল থেকে আমেরিকা অব্দি বন্ধুদের রোজ তাগাদা দেয়, ‘কই রে তোর কবিতা লেখা হল’, ‘একটা গল্প চাই এবারের কোলাজের জন্য’। বাংলা, ইংরাজী বিভাগের সম্পাদকদের কাছে পৌঁছয় সব লেখা। এইবার শুরু কাজ টাইপ করবার। যদিও শোনা যায়না, কিন্তু বেশ কল্পনা করে নেওয়া যায়, চারিদিকে শুধু কি-বোর্ডের খটাখট শব্দ হচ্ছে, কেউ অফিস যাবার আগে, কেউ অফিস থেকে ফিরে, কেউ ভোরে আলার্ম দিয়ে উঠে, কেউ উইকএন্ডের সিনেমা দেখা বাতিল করে, কাজ করে যায়, কোলাজের কাজ। তারপর সবচেয়ে কঠিন কাজ, পেজ সেটিং, তারপর প্রেস ঘুরে হাতে আসে সেই নতুন বইয়ের গন্ধ নিয়ে,বলতে পারি অনেকটা পুজোর শিউলি ফুলের সুবাস নিয়ে, আমাদের ‘কোলাজ’।  

গত কয়েক বছর ধরে কোলাজ এই দায়িত্ব নিয়েছে যে পত্রিকা যাতে সবার হাতে আসে। সাধারণ পাঠক তো বটেই, যারা বিভিন্ন প্রান্ত থেকে লেখা পাঠিয়েছেন ও লেখা প্রকাশিত হয়েছে, তাদের সবার হাতে। তাই কাজ শুধু একটা ম্যাগাজিন প্রকাশ করেই থেমে থাকেনা, প্রত্যেকের কাছে পাঠান,এমনকি অনলাইনে অর্ডার করে কোলাজ সংগ্রহের ব্যবস্থাও আছে। প্রকাশের আগেই বই কেনার ইচ্ছা প্রকাশ করলে, তার পরেই হাতে পেয়ে যাবেন কোলাজ। রয়েছে এইসব ব্যবস্থা এবং ফেসবুকে সব লিঙ্ক দেওয়া আছে, কিভাবে হাতে পাবেন কোলাজ। সবার প্রচেষ্টায় কোলাজ আজ একটা পূর্নাঙ্গ ম্যাগাজিন। বাংলার বাইরে বসে, একেবারে আনকোরা একটা ইচ্ছে থেকে এমন একটি সফল পত্রিকা বার করে যাওয়া কিছু কম কথা নয়।  


আমরা এখন কথায় কথায় বলি ‘সময় নেই’। কতকিছুর জন্যই সময় হয়না আমাদের। সময়ের অভাবে মরচে পড়ে যায়, রোজ দুপাতা ডায়েরি লেখা, বা অবসরে একখানা কবিতা লেখার অভ্যাসে। অথচ শুধু কোলাজের কথা ভেবেই, বি আই এইচ এর কিছু ছেলেমেয়ে সময় বার করে যায় যেভাবে হোক। আমরা চাই,এমন সময় সকলেই একটু করে জমা রাখতে শুরু করি আজ থেকেই, যাতে পরের বছর আবার কোলাজকে নিয়ে শুরু হোক দুর্গাপুজোর প্রস্তুতি। 

- পিয়ালী চক্রবর্তী 

Sharadiya Kolaj 2015 is now available for sale here:
http://www.bengalisinhyderabad.com/webstore

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October 9, 2015

A Trip to Banaras – City of lights - Sharmishtha Shenoy


Banaras or Varanasi as it is known now is one of the oldest living cities in India and in the world. It is a magnificent city as seen from the Ganga at dawn. The rays of the early morning sun strike the high banked face of the city which we, the Hindus call Kashi which means the Luminous, the City of Light.

This temple city is known for being the heartland of Hindu renaissance, the land of piety, philosophy and religious mysticism. For over 2500 years, this city has attracted pilgrims and seekers from all over India. Sages such as Buddha, Mahavira have come here to teach.

Mark Twain on his visit to Banaras quipped,” Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, even older than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together!”

In India, the very thin line that often separates myth from truth can be seen at best in Varanasi. In this city, live the 330 million gods that are believed to be worshipped. It is logical, therefore, to say that it is even more heavenly than the heavens. It is also said that when Shiva, the god of destruction lets loose the pralaya (the flood that will destroy all creation), Kashi will remain unscathed. It is truly an eternal city!

Bathing in the Ganges, a river said to have fallen from heaven to earth, is the first act of the pilgrims and a daily ritual for the residents. Across the Ganges River, there are seventy bathing ghats from Asi Ghat in the south to the Adi Keshava in the north. It would be safe to say that the life of a Hindu centres on the Varanasi ghats. When he is born, he is brought to the ghats for the blessings of the Gods, he receives the holy thread or poyte on its banks and when it is time for him to depart to the other world, his mortal remains are cremated on its banks.

No journey to Varanasi is, hence, complete without a visit to the ghats. One of the most important ghats in Varanasi, Dasahhwamedh derives its name from the ten (dus, in Hindi) horse sacrifices (ashwamedh) performed here by Lord Brahma to appease Lord Shiva. One of the primary attractions is the Ganga aarati. Every evening, priests come down to the ghats and worship the Ganga with multi-tiered flaming lamps. Viewed from a boat on the river, it is a visual spectacle.

No other city on earth is as famous for death as is Banaras. In Kashi life is lived in the perpetual presence of death. More than her temples and magnificent ghats, more than her silk and brocades, Banaras, the Great Cremation Ground, is known for death. At the centre of the city, along the Ganga is the Manikarnika Ghat, the sanctuary of death, with its endless cremation pyres burning day and night. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself goes near the burning pyre and carries the soul to heaven. Fuelled by this belief, the ghat receives hundreds of bodies every day. Kashi is comfortable with the fact of death, for, “Death in Kashi is liberation” – Kashyam maranam muktih. Death, the most natural, unavoidable and certain of human realities, is here the sure gate to moksha, the rarest, most precious, most difficult to achieve spiritual goals.

Also, there are dozens of temples with high spires, most of them dedicated to Lord Shiva, who according to tradition makes this city his permanent earthly home. These temples in Varanasi have great religious and historical importance in Hinduism. There are many temples, erected at different times throughout the history of Varanasi.  One of the most popular and revered shrines of Varanasi is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is one of the twelve sacred jyotirlingas or the 'lingas of light’. Devotees believe that even a glance of this famed linga can sanctify one’s entire being. In the same complex is the temple of Devi Annapurna Bhavani. Sharing the same complex of Kashi Vishwanath Temple on the Panchganga Ghat is the GyanVapi Mosque. The triple-domed Mughal style mosque was built by Emperor Aurangzeb. The mosque and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple stand testimony to the diversity of India. Another important temple is the Durga Mandir. The 18th-century temple, placed on the rectangular Durga Kund, can be easily identified by its huge multi-tiered red shikhara. Built by a Bengali queen, the goddess is worshipped with fervour especially during the Navratras. Founded by Goswami Tulsidas, the holy Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is believed to grant the wishes and desires of those in distress. According to Vedic Astrology, Lord Hanuman rescues people from the malignant forces of planet Saturn. The New Kashi Vishwanath Mandir is situated within the Banaras Hindu University grounds; the Shiva temple was planned by Madan Mohan Malviya and built by the famous Birla family. The Bhagavad Gita engraved on the walls and Shivalinga are the main attraction of this temple.

Sarnath is a small town barely 12 kms from Varanasi rail junction. Sarnath is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage and heritage site. This is where the Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon. Sarnath is home to the excavated remains of the ancient Buddhist monasteries, the famous Lion capital – India’s national emblem, a archaeological museum, huge stupas including the Dhamek and Chaukhandi Stupa and many Buddhist temples built here by missions from Japan, China, Tibet, Cambodia and others. In the Budhist temple of Sarnath there is a beautiful idol of Buddha with some beautiful drawings inside the temple. It is very calm and peaceful there.

Visiting Varanasi

Minimum three days will be needed to see Banaras or Varanasi. Meals can be had at Annapurna Hotel Shakumbari Chauraha, Bhelupur. After sampling the famous Banarasi Pan, visit the Durga Mandir, the Sankat Mochan temple and the Tulsi Manas Mandir. Also, visit the nearby Banaras Hindu University. The New Vishwanath Temple is located inside the beautiful campus.

On the second day one can go for a boat ride in the Ganges where one can see the various ghats from the boat. Also visit the old Vishwanath temple and perform puja there before going back to the hotel for breakfast. Then after breakfast hire a car and visit Sarnath, Ramnagar Fort.

The Ramnagar fort houses a museum displaying the Royal collection which includes vintage Cars, Royal palanquins, an armoury of swords and old guns, ivory work and antique clocks. The Durga Temple and Chhinnamastika Temple are also located at Ramnagar. A temple of Dakshin Mukhi Hanuman is there. Inside the giant walls of the Ramnagar fort-palace, there is a big clock. This clock not only displays year, month, week and day but also astronomical facts about the sun, moon and constellation of stars. An interesting array of ornate palanquins, gold-plated howdahs and weapons are some of the artefacts on display in the Ramnagar fort-palace museum. Try to have the Lassi in Ramnagar – it is very famous – even foreigners come  here to taste the Lassi. After this go back to the hotel  and rest for an hour before going to Dasahhwamedh ghat to see the Ganga Aarati in the evening. On the way back have chaat at the famous Kashi chaat bhandhar.

On the third day, after breakfast go to the famous alleyways of Benares. Visit the Annapurna temple, Vishalakshi temple and Durga Temple. Also, visit Manikarnika and Dasahhwamedh Ghats and Kachauri Gali and finally visit the KalBhairav.

The best season to visit Banaras would be July to March.

Varanasi is the beating heart of the Hindu universe. Most visitors agree it's a magical place, but it's not for the faint-hearted. Here the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public, and the sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats – not to mention the almost constant attention from touts – can be overwhelming. Persevere. Varanasi is unique, and a walk along the ghats or a boat ride on the river will live long in the memory.

References: Diana L. Eck  - Banaras City of Light

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October 5, 2015

Happiness - Sharmishtha Shenoy



What is happiness? Modern science defines happiness as the positive range of emotions that we feel when we are content or full of joy. According to the Coca-Cola Company, “Open an ice cold coca-cola and choose happiness”. As John Lennon once said, “When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘Happy’. They told me I did not understand the assignment. I told them that they did not understand life”.

When I was a small child around five, I used to find happiness in the smallest things in life. I still remember the day when I woke up and could not find my mother at home as she had gone out to a nearby shop to buy some urgently needed grocery. I was in despair. She came back in a little while and on seeing her I was deliriously happy.

When I became a teenager, happiness came from more exciting events like going to the picnic with school friends wearing a saree borrowed from my mother, or singing at a function or even mundane things like walking in the Rabindra Sarobar Lake when the Gulmohar trees were in full bloom. Happiness was when I took an exam and on opening the question paper, found that I knew all the answers or seeing my mother smile or spending Sunday with my parents eating the delicious dishes prepared by a mother.

Happiness was also giving anjali during Durga puja or pandal hopping with friends wearing a new dress every day and of course saving the best one for Navami. Happiness was when I found that my dress was better than my best friend’s or when the boy next door on whom I had a crush rewarded me with a sweet smile.

Once I started college, happiness was bunking college and going to a movie, hanging around in the cafeteria with my friends. Happiness was having the first boyfriend in my life or sharing a stealthy kiss with him. When I started my first job, happiness was the time when I bought special gifts for my loved ones with my first salary. During professional life, happiness was also when I got my first appreciation from my boss or my first promotion, or some years later when I got my own cabin.

Dear reader, learned researchers of reputed Institutes like Harvard, say that you are happiest in your thirties. I tend to disagree as I find that I can be happy at any stage of my life. Or as Deepika Padukone might put it, “Happiness – my choice” – because it is really a matter of choice. Happiness depends on me. I can choose to be happy – or unhappy. But yes, it is in my thirties that I was comfortably settled in my life. It is when people start ticking off boxes including marriage and children. It was also in my thirties that I became more self-confident and more comfortable with myself. During this time, happiness was when I come home after a long day of work and took my child in my arms.

Then before I knew it, I had reached my middle age. Depression among elder people is very common as they are coping with the constant change like loss of a loved one, retirement, and loss of purpose, general regrets about life and many other things. But then again it was up to me to decide whether I wanted to be happy in spite of the circumstances or wallow in self-pity. I did not want to stop playing just because my age is increasing. Because as a wise person once said “We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” That reminds me of a story I once heard. An old man has 8 hairs on his head. He went to the barber shop. Barber asked in jest, “Shall I count or cut?” The old man smiled and said, “Colour it.” Life is to enjoy with whatever I have with me, so I choose to be happy and keep smiling. As Mark Twain said,” Sing like no one is listening, love like you have never been hurt, dance like nobody is watching and live like its heaven on earth.” “The idea is to die young as late as possible!” as  Ashley Montagu put it succinctly.

Now that I am growing older or rather the number of years that I have come to this beautiful earth is increasing (because after all age is just a number), I have started savouring ordinary experiences in life. Because as people become more settled, ordinary experiences become central to a sense of self. I find that the perception of happiness has changed for me over time. When I was younger, by feeling excited I would feel rewarded. But now I get a bigger boost of satisfaction from peace and calm.  In the modified words of Anne Yantha, as I grow older, I find that true happiness is not in how much I make, or how many degrees I have or how big my house is or how fancy my car is. True happiness is finding peace and joy and calmness in my life that will soon become the most important thing to me. My family is what matters to me, love is what matters to me. Things that are quality and not quantity. Rabindranath Tagore that wise sage said, “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain, or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky” – I, dear reader, hope to remain that way till the time comes for me to depart this earth.

Connect with Sharmishtha here.

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