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Durga Puja: Women take up mantle of worshipping, playing ‘dhaak’ in Kolkata pandal

Celebrating women empowerment, women priests, ‘dhakis’, and ‘dhunuchi naach’ performers take the central stage in worshipping Goddess Durga at this pandal in Kolkata’s northeastern outskirts

As Kolkata celebrates Durga Puja by worshipping Goddess Durga, the feminine epitome of strength, the city found a new avenue to spread joy this year as the women in the deity’s paternal home stepped up with dhunuchis and dhaaks in hand.

A group of women priests, led by Dattatriya Ghoshal, is in charge of performing all the rituals at the New Town Sarbojanin Durga Puja. “We have grown up watching men worshipping the Goddess, which is perfectly alright. However, a woman performing the religious rituals was not only unheard of, but was looked down upon for decades,”

“The society, yet to break free from the throes of patriarchy, fails to realise that the almighty they bow their heads in front of is a woman herself,” she added.

Ghoshal, who has been a priest since 2018, said that the entire puja is being conducted as per the Vedic rituals.

In this puja, the customary dhaaks are played by women as well. “Our pandal comes to life with the familiar tune of the dhaak beats played by as many as 12 women over five days of this year’s puja,” said Urmila Sen, president, New Town Sarbojanin Durga Puja.

“In addition, a group of women will also be performing the traditional dhunuchi naach, which essentially is a dance form wherein the performers dance to the tune of the dhaak while balancing the dhunuchi (earthen bowls containing charcoal, coconut husk and powdered incense) in their hands and mouth,” Sen added.

The ensemble of women at the helm of affairs in New Town Sarbojanin Durga Puja is symbolic of the theme that the organisers have chosen for their puja this year. “The theme for this year is ‘Banga Janani’, or Mother Bengal,” said Samaresh Das, secretary, New Town Sarbojanin Durga Puja. “It is an ode to all the mothers in Bengal by portraying Mother Bengal herself, who is above all,” he added.

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A large ‘aanchal’ of the symbolic mother figure falls from her ‘trinayan’, or Third Eye’, and drapes the pandal from the outside. The entire pandal has been adorned with items from a myriad of handicrafts typical to Bengal, ranging from terracotta models to dokra art. The pandal has been brought to life by celebrated artist Prasanta Pal, who was also in charge of making the idol of the deity portrayed in her traditional ‘Mahishasur Mardini’ avatar.

Moving outside the pandal, one finds the self in the midst of a jamboree, conflicted with the urge to hop on a carousel on one hand and satiate the taste buds on another. According to Das, around 100 food stalls have set camp in the 2.5 lakh sq ft expanse in front of New Town’s Central mall.

Accompanying the usual food stalls and joy rides in this carnival are an assortment of handicraft stalls. “This is an extension of our puja’s theme wherein we take a look at our cultural heritage. Several advocates of handicrafts from across the nation have come here and set up their stalls for the five days of puja,” Das said.

In its very first year, New Town Sarbojanin Durga Puja has seen a sea of pandal-hoppers crowding their puja, at times braving the intermittent showers which fail to dampen their spirits. “Around 160 volunteers have been deployed across the entire area, and they coordinate with the police for effective crowd management. Till Saptami evening, we have witnessed as many as 1.5 lakh people paying visit to our puja,” the organiser concluded.

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