When it comes to festivals, Bengalis’ enthusiasm and gusto feature quite high on the list. Though any festival will find them in the midst of fervent celebrations, when it comes to one of their own, it is a different ball game altogether. After Sankranti celebrations, members of this community are now eagerly awaiting the Saraswati Puja.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge and art. This festival thus holds special significance for students, many of whom keep their books at the feet of the idol on this day. Toddlers are also initiated into the world of learning by write the first letter in the Bengali alphabet on a slate in a special ceremony known as ‘haate khodi’.
This is also an occasion for people to come together for anjali (floral offerings), the much-missed ‘adda’ (prolonged chat sessions), and of course to relish the ‘bhog’ (food offered to the goddess and the Bengali delicacies served later to the worshippers).
Since the western suburbs have a sizeable Bengali population, Saraswati Puja is celebrated with great fervour in several pockets of the western suburbs. Here are some of the popular ones.
The singer, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, had been sponsoring the bhog for the Saraswati Puja at Lokhandwala till 1996, when he took charge of organising it. This year, the puja will see its 23rd year and Bhattacharya expects the turnout to cross the regular 2,000-mark this year. “We keep Saraswati Puja very simple and informal. In fact, we do not even construct a stage for the cultural programme held in the evening,” says Abhijeet. “The occasion is meant purely to catch up on the adda that we usually miss out on,” he says.
The puja starts in the morning and is followed by a pushpanjali and bhog distribution. While the bhog distribution is more of a ‘public’ affair with thousands turning up for a share of the goddess’ prasad and blessings, a grand ‘bhoj’ is organised for those who turn up in the evening. Several prominent faces from the music industry join the celebrations. “People just turn up with their instruments and we sit together and play whatever pleases us,” says Abhijeet.
Vivekananda Club, Bandra
Every year, the Vivekananda Club organises a grand Saraswati Puja, visited by thousands of Bengalis from all over the city. This year, the 60th year of the puja, it is to be held at the Bandra Hindu Association hall. “Puja will start from 9am, followed by the ‘haate khodi’ session and the prasad and bhog distribution,” says Shankar Moitra, president of the club. A cultural programme will be held in the evening, when kids of members of the club will sing, perform dances and recitation. “Most members of the community, who are not able to make it in the morning, usually turn up in the evening. It is one of those rare occasions, which bring people of the close-knit community together,” says Moitra. The evening is followed by dinner, which is attended by around 400 to 500 people.
“This year, we are deciding on a special theme for the puja and we expect many more people to join us,” says Moitra.
Minatai Thackeray Udyan, Andheri
This puja is organised by the Mahakali Sarvojanin Durgotsav Seva Samiti at Poonam Nagar in Andheri (east) and will be held at the Minatai Thackeray Udyan this year. “Unlike the Durga Puja, organised by us, Saraswati puja is primarily a Bengali festival,” says Anjan Chatterjee, general secretary of the club.
Interestingly, every year, the club identifies a few meritorious students of the nearby schools in the area and funds scholarships for them. “Since goddess Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge and learning, we choose this day to give away scholarships to deserving students, so that they stay motivated,” says Chatterjee.This year the club has already identified 102 such students and has raised funds to the tune of Rs2.35 lakh as scholarship for them. “We give away the money directly to the principals of the respective schools, so that students do not misuse it. This ceremony is held in the evening, which is followed by a cultural programme, where the colony kids perform. It is followed by a dinner, where Bengali delicacies like ‘Bengali pulao’ are served,” says Chatterjee.