The Bengali community in London is celebrating Durga Puja, just the way their peers are back home. From traditional food to classical performances, the festive fervour is familiar, and grander than ever.
“During 80s and 90s, there would be only one puja in Central London. It used to be a grand affair, brought together by various families. Gradually people diverted to organising smaller pujas of their own across the city,” recollects Arup Ghose, a member of the organising committee for the puja in South London.
“Now there are around 25 pujas held in London. One can actually go pandal-hopping, just like in Kolkata,” shares Ananya Roy, a UK-India liaison for a social cause.
Durga Puja celebrations are grand in London. The pandals are no less magnificent than the ones back home, except that they are organised inside celebration halls and not set up around the corner at a street.
The fervour is familiar; from decorations to food, traditional performances like the Jatra, and the homecoming of goddess Durga.
“We go buy our idol from Kumortuli in Kolkata and then have it shipped,” says Ghose. “It is not every year we do so, though, as the shipping costs are high. We take care of the idol, store it with other puja material and set it up again, another year,” he adds.
The idol that was used for Durga Puja 2017 was brought two years ago, he tells us.
“I’ve seen the pujas grow in number and exuberance over the years. Earlier the size of the idol would be rather small, but now we have life-size idols at the pandals,” shares Roy.
Roy has been to Kolkata for pujas and feels that the only thing amiss in London is the local artwork done on the streets, in pandals and outside homes.
Other than a quintessential local flavour, the pandals in London are indeed full, with festive energy and also social work by Indians trying to send some goodness back home.
“Besides participating in the celebrations and the organisation at the puja, I am fundraising for a nutrition project in India,” shares Roy.
Roy is one of the few young people who take part in organising the pujas. With Teaching Kitchens for Health, the social project she is working on, Roy has also been able to give a new dimension to this coming together of the Bengali community in London.
“We do not see many youngsters come forward to lend a hand with organising or managing pujas. People mostly come over to attend them instead,” says Ghose, a millennial who has been central to the work related to pujas, since childhood.
Nevertheless, the celebrations bring together friends and families, and are an opportunity for the Diaspora to come together. “South London Durga Puja is celebrated at Chak 89, which is a hall owned by a Pakistani man. So, we have our friends from the Muslim community lending us a hand with preparations,” shares Ghose.
“The celebrations are organised on the same dates as in India, and for the same number of days. Shoshti, Soptami, Ashtomi, Nobami, Doshami, the five vital days are celebrated with much vigour,” he tells us.
South London Puja is one of the grandest in London; another popular one being the Camden Durga Puja, which is also one of the oldest.