Durga Puja 2023: Bengalis Abroad Share Glimpses Of Celebrations
Image Credit: Priyanka Roy, Silicone Valley

Whether they have been brought up in Bengal or anywhere else in India, Bengalis are always hit by a sense of nostalgia and the need to participate in Durga Puja rituals like pandal hopping, eating that divine Ashtami Bhog (and any other delicacies they can lay their hands on) and adda. Naturally then, when the same Bengalis travel abroad and settle in different parts of the world, they take this innate need to come together and celebrate Durga Puja as a community every year. The result is that apart from being a major festival in Bengal and India, Durga Puja is celebrated with great aplomb across the world! 

Truth be told, the Bengali diaspora of Probashis—as we discussed in the case of Bengalis beyond Bengal in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru—believes Durga Puja to be that time of the year when engaging in familiar and essential rituals to be a part and parcel of the Bengali identity. Known for their wanderlust and long history of settling in different parts of the world, the Bengali Probashi diaspora across the world is huge, especially in countries like the US and the UK. But when it comes to Durga Puja celebrations, distance forces their hand to create different sets of rituals that still manage to capture the essence of Bengali-ness. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Bong Eats

To understand how Probashi Bengalis abroad have taken Durga Puja celebrations to a global scale, Slurrp caught up with five women across the world. From celebrating Durga Puja over weekends to finding the best food spots that spell authenticity and flavours, here is everything they revealed. 

Ruby Mazumdar: How Seattle’s Bengali Community Celebrates 

For Ruby Mazumdar, who works at a tech company in Seattle and visits her local community Durga Puja in town, Durga Puja signifies “a celebration of life, joy and harmony.” She explains how it is the norm for the Bengali community in Seattle, which has more than 4,000 members now, to celebrate Durga Puja during the weekends (sometimes multiple weekends). “Our Durga Pratima is shipped all the way from Kolkata once every few years,” she explains. “We have people from within the community who perform the Purohit activities. We play the Dhak, prepare the Prasad and get food from our local vendors which we serve inside the pandal.”  

“The entire community participates all the way from setting up the Mandaps to doing the Puja, serving food, organising cultural activities, cleaning up and then finally storing the idol back safely for another year,” she adds. Lining up for a hot Ashtami Khichuri Bhog is something that brings waves of nostalgia back to Mazumdar. Her favourites for Vijaya Dashami include indulging in Kosha Mangsho. “What I miss the most about Durga Puja in Bengal is my family, the festive atmosphere in the whole city and the smell of Shiuli flowers,” she reminisces.  

Debduti Basu: Singapore’s Lively Durga Puja Scene 

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Debduti Basu shifted to Singapore in 2016—before that, she never missed a single Durga Puja in her hometown. “The Bengali community in Singapore is pretty diverse, consisting of Indian Bengalis and Bangladeshi Bengalis,” she explains. “The local Bengali community in Singapore organizes Durga Pujo with a dedicated committee. Traditional Bengali cuisine is a highlight, and the Pujo is open to all, promoting inclusivity. Some Pujo committees engage in charity and social initiatives during the celebrations as well.” 

Basu, who also runs a food blog under the handle @theeatingsuitcase, reveals that there are around eight Durga Puja venues in the Little Red Dot this year. “Apart from importing idols directly from West Bengal, the organizing committees transform the venues into a traditional Bengal-themed setting,” she explains. “The celebration is not just about rituals; it's a showcase of Bengali arts. Cultural programs featuring dance, music, and drama are arranged. Renowned artists are often invited to participate as well.” 

When it comes to food, authenticity is of primary importance. “Traditional Bengali cuisine takes center stage,” Basu explains. “Food stalls serve authentic dishes, including sweets like roshogolla and shondesh, as well as savory items like khichudi bhog and labra. Overall, the celebration of Durga Pujo in Singapore serves as a cultural bridge, bringing the local Bengali community together and sharing the rich traditions with the wider Singaporean society.” 

Priyanka Roy: Bengali Puja And Feasts In Silicone Valley 

The sound of Dhak, smell of Shiuli flower, bright Chandannagar lights, Adda with family and lots of food signify the essence of Durga Puja for Silicone Valley-based Priyanka Roy. “I got married and moved to the California Bay Area in 2017, just before Durga Puja that year,” she says. “There is a huge Indian and Bangladeshi Bengali presence in California’s tech hub, so this community organises dozens of Bengali festivals including Durga Puja throughout the year. When I got here in 2017, there were only 15 Durga Puja committees in Silicone Valley, but now we have 26-28 Durga Pujas that are happening.” 

“We do a lot of pandal hopping, eating and adda like we did in Kolkata, keeping the essence of the festivities alive,” she explains. “The idols at these Pujas are mostly made of eco-friendly materials, shipped from India but not immersed as per the practice in India. So the idols are used over a couple of years. The Purohits and Dhakis are generally local Bengalis who volunteer. The Bhogs are prepared by local Bengalis too, but there are also plenty of food stalls that offer a variety of dishes. We also have the temples and the Ramakrishna Mission in San Francisco and Berkeley organising Durga Pujas.”  

Anwesha Roy: How Bengalis Take Over Oxford 

Anwesha Roy, a Historian and Lecturer at the University of Oxford, explains that despite being a university town, Oxford doesn’t have as huge a Bengali community as London, Hounslow, Reading or Harrow do. “Yet, the Bengali community here makes sure that there is at least one weekend where people can attend Durga Puja, so the dates are shifted around a bit in fact in the UK and don’t necessarily coincide with the Pujo dates in Bengal or in India,” she explains. 

Roy explains that during Durga Puja, she and her family try to cover as much ground around London as possible and especially visit the Camden Puja which is the oldest in the country. “Because of noise and other restrictions, I haven’t seen too many Anjalis, Aratis and Dhunuchi performances here,” she explains. “The idols are usually significantly smaller in scale compared to what we may be used to in Bengal, but they are always beautiful and brought in from Bengal. A token immersion with special permission is done by the organising committee, and then the idol is brought back.”  

Having lived in Kolkata, Delhi and Noida, Roy certainly misses the vibrance of Durga Puja celebrations in India—especially the food. “There isn’t much of a Bhog culture here, but we do have the standard, freshly made Khichuri, Labra, Beguni and Chutney on a weekend.” she explains. “The authentic dishes at the Pujas here tend to be very overpriced, but the funnily enough, the Egg Rolls and Chicken Rolls are made in Kolkata, frozen and brought here. Despite that we eat these rolls, Mutton Biryani and other dishes just for that taste of authenticity.”     

Chandrayee Chatterjee: Durga Puja In The American South 

Economist and food blogger Chandrayee Chatterjee, who runs @the_epicuronomist, has been settled in Austin, Texas for a few years now. “There's a pretty big Bengali community in Austin and in Texas in general,” she explains. “In fact, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin all have pretty big Durga Pujas. I spent close to 6 years in Atlanta and there was a big Durga Puja there as well. There was also a smaller one by the Bangladeshi community. I attended both. In Austin too, there are multiple Durga Pujas. The food is catered by locals and the idols are flown in and reused for a couple of years. This year, I plan to attend the Puja at Houston Durgabari.” 

A true Bengali foodie, Chatterjee explains that her Durga Puja feast favourites are Khichuri, Labra, Fish Fry and Egg Roll. “When I was a grad student in Atlanta, I took my French roommate and my Korean best friend to the local Durga Puja and we had an awesome time! We dressed up and ate a LOT. In future years, I've attended Puja with my partner, and it has always been special for us,” she explains. Apart from the Ashtami Bhog, one of Chatterjee’s favourite rituals is the Kolakuli on Dashami. “I wish women also had something similar rather than just sindoor khela, which would make it more inclusive. I remember hugging all my friends for Kolakuli though.”