Durga Puja 2023: How Bengalis Beyond Bengal Celebrate Maa Durga
Image Credit: Instagram/Sunetra Ghose

Ask any Bengali what is the one festival they look forward to all year, and they’ll of course say Durga Puja. Believe it or not, every Bengali’s brain—no matter which part of Bengal, India or the world they are in—has an automatic countdown mode that calculates just how many months, weeks and days till the auspicious occasion of Sharadiya Durga Puja arrives again. For most Bengalis, Durga Puja is also the time to travel back to their hometowns and roots in the state to immerse in the festivities with family and friends.  

For many Bengalis settled away from Bengal, however, Durga Puja is that time of the year when showcasing the region’s heritage, culture and festive spirit takes centrestage—leading to massive Durga Puja celebrations beyond Bengal. These Bengalis living beyond Bengal, referred to as Probashis (or Pravasi in most Indian languages), celebrate Maa Durga and her primary festival of the year with great aplomb no matter where they are located, by creating Durga Puja committees and organising huge festivities that include traditions, rituals and of course, authentic Bengali cuisine. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Bong Eats

But how difficult is it to create this feeling of home away from home during Durga Puja? How does the Bengali identity and love for Maa Durga, good food, music and more come into play during this annual festival? Slurrp caught up with Probashi Bengalis across Indian cities to understand the significance of Durga Puja festivities beyond Bengal. Here’s what they had to say. 

Samrat Banerjee: In The Heart Of Delhi’s Bengali Hub 

Most people in the food industry know Samrat Banerjee as the Partner at CHO – Vietnamese Kitchen, Bar & Terrace, but very few might know that he plays a central role in the Greater Kailash 2 Durgotsav which takes place annually at Uday Shankar Park. “We are just at the junction of the road that leads to CR Park, so anybody coming into the hub of the Bengali community in Delhi would inevitably come across our Pujo,” he explains.  

With around 200 Bengali families, plenty of Probashis who have settled in Delhi in the last decade, and an increasing number of non-Bengalis too, the GK2 Durgotsav is quite the vibrant affair. “I would consider myself to be a pakka Dilliwala, but the quintessential Bengali identity becomes most evident during Durga Puja,” he explains. “This festive season becomes the epicentre where this Bengali-ness is celebrated.”   

Over generations, this Durga Puja has developed its own set of rituals while keeping the essence of Bengali culture alive. “Our Pujo is very steeped in tradition and all the men and women make sure we’re dressed in dhotis and sarees,” Banerjee explains. “Our purohit, dhakis, pandal workers and murtikar have been associated with us for generations and they all come from Bengal. We want to keep that legacy alive because it is an essential part of the Delhi Bengali community that needs to be preserved.”  

An essential part of any Durga Puja celebration is the food, and Banerjee explains that their Puja is open to all, especially on Ashtami. “We do Bhog on Saptami, Ashtami and Navami, and on Dashami we have fish-rice for everyone,” he explains. “For Ashtami Bhog, we are expecting over 5,000 people this year. Our main aim is to keep the food as original as possible, so we have khichuri, labra, beguni, aloo phulkopir torkari, paneer dalna, papad, chutney and payesh. All our mothers, aunts and grandmothers manifest Maa Annapurna and serve everyone by their own hands and it gives them a lot of joy.”  

Debangshu Adhikari: Navi Mumbai’s Vibrant Durga Puja Scene 

While you may know about Mumbai’s oldest Durga Pujas in Bandra and Dadar, the Bengali community in Navi Mumbai, as Debangshu Adhikari explains, is quite vibrant too. “We have around 450 Bengalis in NRI Seawoods, Navi Mumbai, and we started celebrating our own Durga Puja since last year,” he explains. "We had a Bengali idol maker at Panvel Kali Bari, so we approached him,” he explains. “The Purohit and caterer are local Bengalis who have been in Mumbai for years now. We connected with a farmer in Bolpur who happily sent his children who are Dhakis at such short notice.”  

Clearly, organising a Durga Puja beyond Bengal is no easy task, but Adhikari says that he enjoys it to the fullest, especially since it evokes memories of “food trips, pandal hopping, the daily morning till late night Adda sessions, and the old-time habit of watching all the people around wearing their beautiful new clothes and looking their festive best.” And yet, he says, the same Bhog menu for Ashtami each year tastes simply too divine and is a key attraction along with the Dhunuchi dance.  

“Memories of Khichuri, Basanti Pulao, Labra, Chanar Dalna, Phulkopi roast, Aam er chutney, papad, soft ledikeni followed by an ice cream is already bringing my hunger pangs back,” he says laughingly. “Somehow Maa Durga gets her children to enjoy their Bhog the most on this day as if she is feeding us herself.”  

Poulamee Ghosh Barman: Bengaluru’s Bengali Community Speaks 

For Poulamee Ghosh Barman, a very popular Bengali food blogger based out of Horamavu, Bengaluru who is known by her handle @thekhaiikhaiigirl, Durga Puja is a time of nostalgia and traditions. “Growing up, I saw my father leading a Durga Puja of our society back in my home town,” she explains. “Then as I moved to Bengaluru, Durga Puja was all about going home. As I got married and settled down in Bengaluru, we started hosting our own Durga Puja in our apartment society since 2021 and now it’s my parents who come to me and stay with us throughout this festive time!” 

Though her society has a mix of people from many communities, Ghosh Barman says that Durga Puja gives her the perfect opportunity to introduce people to Bengali culture. “It becomes our responsibility to bring out our culture to everyone,” she says. “We get our Purohit and Dhaki from Bengal to enjoy the authentic essence of this festivity. For Ashtami Bhog, Khichuri, Labra and Chutney are my absolute favourites,” she says, while adding that she prepares plenty of other Bengali favourites during this time too. 

Being a married Bengali woman, Sidur Khela on Dashami is an essential part of the festivities for Ghosh Barman. A key feature for that day, she explains, is preparing Dodhikorma. “It is a mix of curd, khoya, poha, banana, sweets that is prepared on Dashami morning and eaten post the Bisharjan of Maa Durga at the ghaat. It tastes heavenly,” she explains. 

Sunetra Ghose: The Next Generation Inherits Gurugram’s Durgotsav 

Born and brought up in Delhi and based now out of Gurugram, 20-something lifestyle content writer Sunetra Ghose is one of those young Bengalis who are now taking over from their parents and joining the Durga Puja organising committees. “Our community (DCDP & Bengali Cultural Society) is about 30 years old and has 600 members and counting,” she explains. “Durga Puja here is celebrated from Panchami to Dashami. Our Purohit and dhakis are brought here from Kolkata, and as for the idols, it depends on the theme for the year.”  

“Most of our idols are made in the outskirts of Delhi, except for the pandemic, when we had an Ashtadhatu idol made from Bishnupur, West Bengal,” she adds. “For the food - we have our bhog made by our in-house caterer, and there are food stalls that cover everything from street food, Bengali delicacies, different cuisines, and even sweet dish. We don’t have any specific parameters to assign the food stalls - but we like having variety. We’re Bongs after all, so no Pujo is complete without pet pujo!” 

For Ghose, enjoying Bengali favourites like Paturi, Daab Chingri, Dimer Devil, Phuchka and Jhaal Muri is a must. "The Ashtami Bhog is a welcome change from what we’re served on Saptami and Navami,” she explains. “The luchi, along with cholar daal, aloo’r Dom and paneer-er torkari is a fabulous combo, followed by payesh and Rosogolla. It truly is one meal I look forward to!” 

Avradeep Sen: A Taste Of Pune With Durga Puja 

Settled in Pune for over a decade now, Avradeep Sen has been missing Durga Puja in Kolkata for seven years now—but being located in Vimannagar, one of the poshest areas of the city has helped him cope. “We have a pretty huge Bengali community here as we have the Symbiosis campus and their grand Durga Puja nearby,” he explains. While he isn’t a member of the Durga Puja committee here, he does participate eagerly and never misses the Bhog on offer from Saptami to Navami. 

“That simple but yummy Bengali lunch at the pandal with the ambience of Poribeshon, adda, dhunuchi dance all manage to bring waves of nostalgia,” he says. “The adda or conversations with friends over food and drinks is an essential part of the Pujo experience in Pune for me. And then, of course, there is the pandal hopping we do to cover as many Puneri Durga Pujas as possible. Participating in Bisarjan is also a must.” 

When it comes to the authentic Bengali dishes he never misses out on in Pune’s many pandals and food stalls during Durga Puja, Mutton Biryani, Mutton Dak Bunglow and Bengali mishti always takes preference. Yet, he says, “nothing beats the simple deliciousness of white rice, dal and Jhuri Aloo Bhaja!”