To Czech writer-researcher Martin Hribek, Durga Puja epitomises the “condensation of creative energy” and he believes that even if the traditional forms of worship were to somehow fade into oblivion, the city’s creative spirit has what it takes to bring them back.
“It’s amazing the form has been preserved. If you speak about preserving something you are implying its almost dying. I don’t think it’s going to die. It’s a young festival in many ways. The (aristocratic) family pujas (the ‘Bone Di Bari’ puja) may be fewer. Sometimes it happens that some forms fall into oblivion and then they are resurrected,” Hribek told IANS in a candid chat here.
Hribek, a professor of Bengali and Indian Studies, Institute of South and Central Asia, Charles University, Prague, was in the city for a illustrated lecture in Bengali, titled “Bideshir Chokhe Durgapujo” (‘Durga Puja in Foreign Eyes’) at Victoria Memorial here.
“I have much belief in the creative spirit of Calcutta and if it happens (if a form of puja dies) then somebody will take it up and revive it,” he said.
Asked whether any festival in the world could be compared to the sheer scale of Durga Puja — the biggest festival in this part of the country, Hribek likened the form of the celebration to Ganesh Chaturthi.
“Ganesh Chaturthi, to some extent, is very much comparable. The form is similar and also the history of nationalism involved is similar. Also, the the Santa Rosalia Festival, in Palermo in Italy, that celebrates Palermo’s patron saint with a week of festivities, including parades, fireworks, and music. It’s actually quite similar — they have pandals and statues. They even have the lightings,” he noted.
From 2000 to 2004, Hribek spent most of his time in Kolkata and its environs doing research on the festival as well as other annual pujas that mark the Bengali calendar. He soon became fascinated by the coexistence of multiple historic and contemporary layers within a single festival.
The puja is usually a five-day event with Sasthi, and the subsequent four days — Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami — translating into frenzied pandal-hopping (visiting marquees) in new clothes, meeting friends and family and stuffing oneself with traditional delicacies.
Puja celebrates the annual descent of Goddess Durga, the slayer of the demon Mahishashur, accompanied by her four children — Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati — on the Earth to visit her parents.
The goddess, astride a lion and wielding an array of weapons in her ten hands, stays for four days to eradicate all evil from the Earth before returning to her husband Lord Shiva at Kailash on Dashami.
This year, Puja runs from September 26-30.
“It’s like a window into the culture. It’s like a good place to start with because you will see different domains of culture reflected: from social structure to kinship to foods to anything,” Hribek highlighted.
In addition, what intrigues him most is the makeover that city goes through to accommodate the creativity and celebration.
“The way in which images mediate between past, present and possible futures and condensation of all this creativity and all this labour and talent which is given into this festival throughout these five days in the city which changes so much so that the police give out maps for their own citizens so that they can navigate through the corridors… it is all so intriguing,” he added.