The Feeling Of A Home Never Seen: A Recollection

 Puja, in its most literal sense, is the worship of Gods. In the Hindu religion, Puja can refer to any form of worship, ranging from a daily individual worship to yearly mass celebrations of gods and culture. For us Bengalis, however, Puja is much more than a worship. It is a festival which prioritizes inclusivity, regardless of caste, social standing, or any other differences. Puja builds an unbreakable bond, a testament to strength, love, and unity. And it provides an opportunity to showcase just how talented we really are, how beautiful our creations can be, and how captivating and inspiring our celebrations can be when we all work together for a common goal.  

[Photo Courtesy: Team JournaPost/Anubhab Roy]

Durga Puja is an annual homage to the Goddess Durga, paying tribute to her protective, motherly role in the Hindu religion, as well as her role in defeating evil during the legendary war against Mahishasura. Durga is a beacon of hope to us Bengalis, symbolizing the invincible strength needed to destroy oppression, evil, and suffering.  

The victory of Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura is traditionally depicted in Durga Pujas. She can be seen as a Goddess warrior, with many arms holding various objects of religious significance, standing atop of Mahishasura and slaying him with a trident. These clay Murtis showcase the talent of Bengali artists, their skills refined through years of practice, and Murtis glowing with the love and devotion of their creators. These clay murtis also promote inclusivity for sex workers, as traditionally, the Durga murti must be made with “Punya Mati” or holy soil from the doorstep of a Brothel. Even though sex work is one of the oldest professions in the world, sex workers have been ostracized from society, and still are to this day. For this one celebration, they are treated with respect for the purpose of the collection of this holy soil. And for this one celebration, Ma Durga makes them feel human again. 

I can testify firsthand to the unifying nature of Puja. Durga Puja in Kolkata is considered to be the heart of all Puja celebrations. I grew up some twelve thousand kilometers away, in Newark, New Jersey, a city with a Hindu population of around 0.2%. I always considered myself a Hindu, and prayed daily with my parents every evening. But apart from around 15 minutes a day, my religion played no role in my life. 

Except for that one week every year.  

The temple we visited every year was called the Bharat Sevashram Sangha of New Jersey. I still remember complaining about why we’d have to drive two hours in weird clothes just to see clay figures. I remember thinking why we were donating such large amounts of money to these temples we rarely visit when we had very little money ourselves. I’d always have so many questions for my parents. And they always answered with patience. “Who’s this goddess, ma?” “Why’s she standing on this weird green guy?” “Why does she have so many arms?”. 

[Photo Courtesy: Team JournaPost/Anubhab Roy]

And they tried to answer all my questions. And I had so many, from not growing up around my religion, and my culture.  

We’d get to the temple at different times, depending on my father’s work. See, there, he wouldn’t get to leave work early to attend the Puja rituals. So, on the weekends, we’d go as early as possible, and attend the ceremonies from start to finish. This did test my patience as a kid, but I got to learn so much of my heritage. My father told me the story of Ma Durga, and how she vanquished the evil Mahishasura. He explained the process behind the creation of the Clay Murtis, and how much painstaking effort and attention to detail is required for it. He told me, that even though we are miles away from home, this celebration makes it seem not as far. We spent time with other people like us, separated from their family and friends. We listened to the priests pray. We ate the Bhog, and invited in the homeless to come eat with us. And on the final day, we bid goodbye to our beloved Maa Durga, and submerged her in the Passaic River.  

[Photo Courtesy: Team JournaPost/Anubhab Roy]

Last year was my first year experiencing an authentic Puja in Kolkata. And to my surprise, the Puja we had in the US was extremely close to Puja here. The traditions, the imagery and decoration, the festivity and smiles, and the feeling of brotherhood, were all so similar. I felt as though I had seen it all before, that I had been here before. And that’s when I realized the true purpose of Puja, and the magic it holds in uniting us. Even though I was thousands of miles away, Puja is what protected my connection to my home. It helped me understand the culture I belong to, and for that I am so grateful.  


Anubhab Roy


Enakshi Ganguly


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