Falling rupee, rising inflation, slump in markets, economic slowdown, no cash flow may be the buzz words now but Bengalis can never forgo the temptation of celebrating their biggest festival, Durga Puja in style. In Rajasthan’s capital city of Jaipur, women are taking the lead in overriding the budget blues with their entrepreneurial skills to pay their annual obeisance to Goddess Durga in the right spirit.
In West Bengal and especially in Kolkata, the big ticket Durga Pujas have cut down on their budgets due to the recession and the consequent slump in sponsorship.
But not in Jaipur, where not only have the number of Durga Pujas sprung up but some of these pujas this year are also being helmed solely by women, who have come forward to organise their most-awaited festival with the same pomp and splendour, as always.
“We cannot even think or imagine that our local Durga Puja will be held bereft of all the traditions, rituals, cultural programmes and of course the glitz and glamour. We wait for this puja the entire year. The economic slowdown has definitely hit all of us, there were fears in most Durga Pujas committees, whether we would be able to hold a reasonably decent puja this year owing to markets being in the red. The corporates are simply not willing to loosen their pursestrings and Bongs, who are generally service people, do not have enough to spare heavily for the Durga Puja,“ says Mita Guha, one of the main organisers of DurgaBadi Durga puja, one of the oldest Pujas of Jaipur, running into its 63rd year.
Mita has been part of this Puja for years, having been mainly associated with the ladies wing that is the Mahila Samiti. But this year, she decided to become the most active fund collector for the Puja, as she could sense until women took the lead, then there were chances that puja would not be held in the traditional manner as in previous years.
Having been a business women herself for years, Mita took on the mantle of raising funds. “Of all the departments, fund collection and convincing people in the midst of this market slump have been the most difficult. Although our targeted budget is around Rs 25 lakhs, we have been able to raise at least Rs 15 lakh till now. We have been able to get sponsorship for our bhog, which amount to Rs 6 to 7 lakh from some donors, who believe in the strength and blessings of Ma Durga. But the demonetisation and GST have hit the markets hard and we are feeling the pinches and after-effects right now. People do not have money, so how do they shell out money for religious festival? I have been trying to reach out to my friends, acquaintances abroad and have made umpteen phone calls and have met so many people with the only goal being to get the puja in order. With Ma’s blessings and our women team, who work to get the cultural programme off the ground, we hopefully will be able to pull off our Durga Puja, perhaps better than in previous years, ” says Mita.
Most Durga Pujas have cut down their budgets by 15 to 30%, mainly compromising on decor and ambience around the pandals but Durgabadi has refused to cut down on its decor. The theme this is Chalchitra, which is actually a painted backdrop against the idol. The chalchitra is supposed to be subtle and not steal the spotlight from the idol. And this form of art is slowly fading away even from Bengal.
“So we decided to focus on the old and traditional art forms of West Bengal including the wooden dolls from Katwa, in Bardhwan district, so that our next generation gets to know our time-tested traditions and culture. It is an expensive theme but we decided to go with it as most people come to see the art forms and decors of the pandals as pandal hopping is one of the most popular activity of Bengalis during Durga Puja,” quips Mita.
Not only Mita, but an entourage of women have been handling the cultural programme and activities and the actual ritualistic puja of Durgabadi for years as they feel their next generation should get to know not only about the puja rituals like Sondhi puja but Bengal's famous authors, plays and especially Rabindra Sangeet and Bangla folk songs so that the tradition passes on and their children become aware of their rich Bengali culture and legacy.
Ashish Mukherjee, one of the organisers of the Durgabadi Association, says : “Women have I our association have come forward on their own to help us in fund collection. Mahila Samiti is an extremely important part of every puja committee. They are our real strength. We have always acknowledged their participation and more so now in times of economic crisis.”
In another Durga Puja , Agrani Cultural Association, running into its 28th year, the entire puja operations is being handled by a team of 14 women, led by Ratna Das Adhikari. The puja is being financed from the savings of these women members, who agree to shell out a huge amount, around Rs 25,000 or more from their family expenses every year to keep the puja going. So while one of the women members may be sponsoring the Durga idol, other may be sponsoring part of the bhog like milk for the payesh ( khir), made over three days ( Saptami, Ashtami and Navami) which is partaken by thousands during the puja days. With consumer sentiment weak and markets down, the women here are not going out to collect funds, they are delving deep into their own pockets to get the resources for the puja to be held in a proper manner.
Ratna says : “Even our bhog is being prepared by a team of women. So it is women empowerment at its best, where we believe we are no less than men in organising these huge festivities , spread over five days beginning with Shasti and till Visarajan (idol immersion) on Dashmi.”
So from managing finances to crowds, the distribution of bhog is also overseen by the women here, so that nobody is left out from Ma’s bhog prasad.
Even upcoming pujas like Shakti Welfare Foundation in Jaipur’s Malviya Nagar have young women as secretary, who are going out of their way to collect funds for puja.
As the curtains rise on the five-day festivities from today ( Friday) and as the dhaak plays out loud in the background, the aroma of dhuno fills the air and the dhunuchi nacho ( dance) begins before the huge idols, the silent army of women members of these various Puja committees work relentlessly and quietly behind the scenes to bring enjoyment and happiness to thousand others.
Women are, indeed trending this festive season.