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Traditional festivities and new milestone at Hamilton Durga Puja

Praneeta Mahajan

Praneeta Mahajan

Hamilton, 11 October 2022

Durga Idol at Hamilton Durga Puja (Photo supplied)

Durga Puja is one of the most awaited festivals for the Bengali community across the World, planned and celebrated with immense love for the Goddess Durga.

Juggling with everyday work and schedules, it is astonishing to see that members of the Hamilton Bengali Association took time off from their routines and planned performances, decor, food and numerous details for months leading up to the days of the actual celebration.

Spread over three days, the volunteers and members came together on Friday afternoon to prepare the venue for the prayers, arrange the decor and the idol placement, and arranged for prayers in the evening. The second and third days were full of ceremonies, community celebrations, traditional food and rituals that made everyone a part of the festivities. The celebrations concluded with Sindur Khela, literally meaning ‘vermillion game’, is a Bengali Hindu tradition where women smear each other with sindur on Vijayadashami, the last day of the Durga Puja.

A landmark Celebration for Hamilton Community

This year was of great significance for the community, with a newly created idol of the goddess reaching Hamilton, just in time for the pooja celebrations.

True to tradition, the idol was designed and handcrafted in Kumartuli, a suburb of Kolkata, India, which is the world’s largest market for Durga puja Idols. Traditional prayers by the senior priest (photo supplied)

Known as a hub for traditional sculptors and artists, it is a dynamic space to visit, for the sheer creative talent that has been preserved over generations. The details and minor additions that make all idols unique show the talent in these quaint lanes of Kolkata.

There are different stages to the whole process of making Durga Puja Idols. On Akshaya Tritiya, clay for the sculptures is collected from the banks of the Ganges. A handful of soil (Punya mati) is collected from the ‘nishiddho pallis’ of Calcutta, where sex workers live, and added to the clay mixture which goes into the making of the Durga sculpture, as a respectful gesture of inclusion of all forms of womanhood.

What made the celebrations even more exuberant this year was the inclusion of a traditional Drum, used in all festivals, called a ‘dhaak’, the sound of which is said to be the very soul of Durga puja for the first time since the festival was celebrated in Hamilton.

Different rhythm compositions are used for different occasions even during Durga Puja – one when the Goddess is being taken to the mandap, one when she is welcomed, one when she is being worshipped, varying during the puja from morning to night.Sindoor khela at the conclusion of festivities (photo supplied)

About the Hamilton Bengali Association

While the Hamilton Bengali Association had a humble beginning and got its first idol in 2016 as a kind gesture from the Palmerston North Bengali community, they have gradually grown through constant contributions from the members and community at large.

This is the first time they have got their idol, all the way from India, and praying to the goddess in all her glory became even more memorable as every member of the association had worked towards this special milestone for the community.

Ms Manu Malhotra, President of the Hamilton Bengali Association said “Being an art-inclined community, we take great pride in the rich cultural knowledge bank. We can bring the festivities to life through everyone’s collective efforts, and I would like to thank all the members, participants and performers who made the celebrations possible with their time and contribution.” She told us how the cultural performance, said to be the heart and soul of Durga Puja festivities, was planned and practised for months. It included several performances from the members of the community, with the youngest performer being 4 years old and the oldest participant being 75 years old.

She also thanked all the visitors, from varied cultural backgrounds, who came to be a part of the prayers and celebrations and highlighted the community spirit, making all efforts fruitful.

Ritwika Nath Ray, a young professional and one of the founding members of the community said that “ the eight year of celebrating in Hamilton was extra special as we welcomed Maa Durga all the way from the alleys of Kumortuli, arranged by our secretary. The cherry on top of the weekend long celebration was the cultural event artistically organised by the committee members and the scrumptious delights that we enjoyed on all three days.”

Praneeta Mahajan is Indian Newslink Reporter based in Hamilton.

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