U joins Durga Puja festivities worldwide with own event

The new Bengali Student Society of Minnesota organized the event.

Liala Helal

Some University students were reminded Sunday of the taste of their childhood.

For the first time since they came to the United States, approximately 100 students, many from Bengal (east India), were able to participate in Durga Puja, an autumn holiday, with the same fervor and excitement they had back home.

“We feel it’s a nostalgic kind of feeling,” said University alumnus Shubhajit Ghosh. “We are away from home here, but at least we can think of the festival.”

More than 100 million people around the world celebrate this holiday, said University student Sombuddha Chakraborty.

“Its perhaps one of the biggest celebrations on earth,” said Chakraborty, who wore a dhoti, a single piece of cloth wrapped around his body.

He played the part of the priest, or Purohit, in the prayers that began in the morning. Reciting the prayers in Sanskrit, the fifth most-spoken language in the world, in front of a yellow and red painting of the goddess of power, Duja, Chakraborty and other attendees remembered the historical folklore of Duja defeating the king of demons, Asur. Because this defeat happened during autumn, the holiday is celebrated during this time.

“It’s a symbolic thing,” Ghosh said. “It’s victory over evil.”

Surrounded by yellow decorations representing radiance, attendees wearing red and white, a sign of life, came together to participate in the first student-organized celebration of Durga Puja in the world.

Traditionally, senior members of the Bengali community organize the huge celebration, but this year, students decided to step up and have their own.

In past years, students did not feel welcome at the Bengali Association of Minnesota’s three-day celebration of Durga Puja in Bloomington because of the location and the lack of opportunity for student involvement.

Saurav Mitra, the main founder of the Bengali student group, said there is no conflict between the association and students, but students thought they wanted to be more than just attendees.

“Students need their own expression, their voices,” Mitra said.

Students had been thinking about planning their own celebration for months. Last week, they started a student group called Bengali Student Society of Minnesota and quickly put the event together.

“We did not speculate anymore; we just went for it,” University student Raj Dasgupta said.

University student Ritika Ganguly found there “was more than just a handful of students who felt this distance,” which sparked the motivation of the event.

“This is completely our product.” she said. “It just feels so good.” said Ganguly, the cultural program coordinator.

As children, these students would enjoy the countdown to the holiday much more than the holiday itself, a feeling organizers tried to re-create at this year’s event.

“Everybody waits for this festival all year,” Ghosh said.

After morning prayers, attendees enjoyed plays, dances, and songs at the cultural celebration in the evening.

“There’s good food, a good mood, and people just mingle their heart out,” said University student and organizer Sandeep Mukherjee.

Bengal is the most vibrant and cultural part of India, Mukherjee said.

Every year, the region develops new literature and works of art. Poets and artists are very prominent in Bengal.

“People say, ‘You throw a stone and it will land on a poet,’ ” Mukherjee said.

Ghosh was amazed by the teamwork of event organizers.

“It really shows the student spirit here, that they could do it so nicely in such a small amount of time,” he said.

“Since we are foreigners, it gives a really good feeling that we can have the same thing here, even if we don’t have all the means.”