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This Durga Puja Brings Narratives of Communal Harmony

Durga puja is exemplifying communal harmony at a time when the world grapples with religious animosity and social polarisation

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Durga Puja
Durga Puja in at Bhopal Madhya Pradesh. Wikimedia

Kolkata, Sep 15, 2017: For over 200 years, the Nandi family in West Bengal’s Hooghly has been feeding Muslim fakirs during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja. To the Nandis, this annual ritual has its roots in a family legend that is testimony to the generosity of the local Muslim community.

It is also one of the myriad instances of the festival — the biggest in Bengal — exemplifying communal harmony at a time when the world grapples with religious animosity and social polarisation.

According to 80-year-old Satipati Nandi, the ninth-generation descendant of the family that claims to have been the “largest importer of betel nuts in eastern India once upon a time”, this Hindu-Muslim syncreticism comes naturally.

“It may sound as a big deal today but it all started centuries ago. It is said that two brothers, Kuber Shankar and Kama Shankar, were selling pakodas (fried snacks) in Halishahar in North 24-Parganas when they chanced upon a fakir who gave them a gold mohar (coin) to start an enterprise… revolving around the first thing they spot,” Nandi told IANS.

The rest is history.

The Nandis ventured into the betel nut business and eventually branched out into real estate, acquiring multiple properties across the state, including the present family residence at Pandua in Hooghly as well as land in Garia in south Kolkata.

Also Read: What makes Hindu Festival Durga Puja so popular in India? Know its Meaning and Significance 

“In remembrance of the generous fakir, we feed two fakirs on Navami (the ninth day of the festival). Now we usually do not find fakirs; so we offer khichdi to any two members of the Muslim community,” Nandi explained.

This communal integration has spilled on to the state capital Kolkata as well.

In the heart of Kolkata is Kumartuli — the potters’ enclave — which is in a state of frenzy with Durga Puja that is round the corner. The clay idols of Durga and her pantheon are being daubed in paint and their curves clothed in vibrant saris.

Their bald heads are carefully draped in jute wigs that have been painstakingly fashioned into braids and curly tresses for the Hindu goddess by Muslim craftsmen.

Neither blinding rain nor religion get in the way of business in this buzzing maze-like colony of potters and their assistants, labourers, decorators and tourists with selfie sticks — the point of origin of around 5,000 clay Durga idols each year.

Around 400 “shilpis” (craftsmen) churn out Durga and her children in crammed 6 by 10 foot studios, cloaked in tarpaulin sheets. The final touches, which begin around a fortnight before Mahalaya (September 19), include decking the idols in accessories.

“Draping the hair is an essential part of the process. The jute wigs are fashioned by Muslim families from Parbatipur near Howrah and other areas. A typical ‘sabeki’, or traditional idol, usually dons a curly and wavy wig. Essentially, they are mostly black but we do have variants of the wig in dark brown, rust and beige,” Babu Pal, a spokesperson for the potters, told IANS.

Slightly rough in texture, they are almost indistinguishable from your average wigs. Packed in bundles starting off at Rs 100, these are available as plaits, straight extensions for the sides or as wavy locks.

“Everyone comes to look at the idols. They admire, take pictures and go away. But it’s not just the idols… you have to assemble the goddess piece by piece. Muslim craftsmen usually fashion the dress material and the wigs. You may talk about cow politics and put a religious spin on it, for us it’s the way of life here… no one talks about this (Hindu-Muslim issues)… it’s business,” Pal elaborated.

According to Indologist Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, Hindu-Muslim integration during the Durga Puja was not uncommon in undivided Bengal.

“It has continued despite geographical barriers because the festival now is a huge industry. It provides employment to people from all communities. It’s only some politicians and communal-minded people who give it a different spin. During immersions too, everyone comes together to bid adieu to the goddess and family. She is looked at as a source of strength and not as a religious symbol,” Bhaduri added.

And you don’t have to look further than Begampur town in Hooghly district to see several Muslim families celebrating Durga Puja as a symbol of the common culture of the festival that unites Hindus with other minorities, at least in Bengal.

(This story is part of a special series that will showcase a diverse, plural and inclusive India and has been made possible by a collaboration between IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

-IANS

 

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Victims of Self-Serving Mamata And Her Outrages

Bengal CM could not yet identify who really "protects" the country and who really endangers the country.  Here the big irony is that Didi’s “unconstitutional misdeeds”;  her outright cruelty towards some and preferential treatment towards others hardly hit the headlines and  nor is she brought into question.

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Mamata Banerjee
If one sincerely analyzes the postures and gestures of Ms. Mamata in her tenure of the past 15-year, one just becomes deeply apprehensive.

By: SALIL GEWALI 

How does one describe the tantrums that have often been thrown by W. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee? Much has been heard of her insincere rhetoric. But they are just accepted as politically correct. She has larger section of elite fraternities who have fallen for her, and her “likes” and “dislikes”. Therefore, no outcry of protest even when Rohingyas were welcomed by Didi. Instead, many hearts melted and sympathies were expressed. ‘They are tortured and deported from Myanmar, so India should be kind to provide them the shelter on humanitarian ground’ – this narrative of humanity was tactfully put forth while other activists kept mum. Here in India people are smart and know well how to juggle with“silence and noise”.

A few days back Didi has begun a sit-down drama with the gaze towards the Center. WB CM in her flip-flop has now willfully stepped on the toes of the very constitution of the country. She had also unchained the police forces and set them on CBI! What does one call if the sit-in strike is by CM and the Police officers together against the Central Government? This strange dharna has been dubbed by Mamata’s allies as a Dharma. Never was the chit-fund less fun for the CM and her followers though it brought countless poor people to grief. Lakhs of families have had fallen into ruin. SIT is just an eyewash.

Bengal
A few days back Didi has begun a sit-down drama with the gaze towards the Center. WB CM in her flip-flop has now willfully stepped on the toes of the very constitution of the country.

If one sincerely analyzes the postures and gestures of Ms. Mamata in her tenure of the past 15-year, one just becomes deeply apprehensive. Her intense love for the votes has long soiled her sacred Sari. And her love for the currency “notes” has apparently driven away the saintly soul which she often claims to carry. Of course, she shrewdly capitalized on her sainthood from the very beginning, but mostly for the wrong ends.

Without a sense of guilt, she had sent the brute force to the Hills in 104 days of bandh that left 13 Gorkha citizens dead. Many of those killed were also the “siblings” of the soldiers that are now protecting the nation from the enemy, standing day in day out along the rugged and icy Indo-Pak boarders. Bengal CM could not yet identify who really “protects” the country and who really endangers the country. Under the instruction of DIDI the Bengal police forces in Siliguri had blocked even the essential food items to Darjeeling. All leaders have turned their back on the aggrieved Gorkha people who have been crying for the identity and land for over a century. Nor any efforts are made by the media to assess the real plight of the aggrieved Hills’ people. However, Didi’s heart always goes out to the guests from across the broader whom she has brought in millions and awarded them the first-class citizenship. Here the big irony is that Didi’s “unconstitutional misdeeds”; her outright cruelty towards some and her preferential treatment towards others hardly hit the headlines and nor is she ever brought into question.

Bengal
Didi has a brigand of other colleagues who carry the same ideas, same agendas, and the same mission.

Well, Didi has taken many such steps that have already started to “pose” potential threats to the original Bengali. It is quite clear now that she has “sown” the seeds that are going to be grown into the jungle of nettles. They will surely and hurtfully sting not only the body but the heart and soul of the citizens of West Bengal and other states. What with her TMC Cadre? They are legitimatized goons, the most beloved in the state.  Hardly any FIRs are accepted against TMC’s misconducts and brutalities.

Also Read: Students From Abroad Must Come to India For Higher Studies, Says PM Narendra Modi
Now coming back to the present case. Today Didi looks intensely fearless, she has been very emboldened. She even openly challenges the enforcement machinery from the Center. Making gross misinterpretations of the constitution is what she is exceptionally good at.  Many federal guidelines and regulations are just non-existent for the present West Bengal.  No wonder, Didi has a brigand of other colleagues who carry the same ideas, same agendas, and the same mission. This only makes her more invincible and more ferocious. True, soon after the unprecedented standoff between Police and CBI, Didi has received bountiful best wishes from Rahul, Sitaram Yechury, Chandrababu Naidu Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Pd Yadav, Kejriwal, et al.

   Please kindly note, her well-wishers also include those forces who want to see India being broken to pieces. Here one wonders when people could tell apart Didi’s Sanyasini outfit and her true character. Let’s be smart before it is too late, else the country is never going to be in safe hands.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.