ebaar Uma ele….

Purna Chowdhury’s status on Mahalaya day, ‘ebaar Uma ele” makes me think why Bengalis invariably organize the Durga Puja? One has to be a Bengali by birth to be able to organize this enormous event called the Durga Puja. It is a mammoth event of which the decorative pandals and the exquisite clay figures of Gods, Goddesses, Demon and animals are actually the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath is a colossal coordination among weavers, carpenters, wood carvers, pandal makers, screen painters, artists, conceptualisers, architects, florists, lightmen, electricians, makeup artists, copyrighters, printers, publicity managers, queue managers, caterers, space marketing people, public relations persons to negotiate with the police and neighbours, accountants, cooks, mechanics, fitters, welders, and of course the fund raisers. One needs to acquire some kind of a social status to rope in celebrities, to be able to convince friends and friends of friends to be able to put up a show of this grand a scale. This is not all, every Puja must reveal some kind of a wider consciousness in the themes they adhere to. Themes may cover anti-terrorism, Iraq aggression, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, anti GM food, anti-clones, anti-female foeticide and so on.
A puja pandal is also a veritable forum of social reform, something that Bengal seems to have patented with its Renaissance. Durga Puja is not worship alone; worship is only incidental to it; the Durga Puja is actually a cultural event of the Bengali, an attempt to present before the world its consciousness about the various things that make up our contemporary reality. It is Bengali’s contribution to installation art, long before the concept was ever invented. It is Bengali’s spreading out of the public sphere where the electronic and the print media seem to fall short. It is the Bengali’s emergence into a civil society that operates between the reproductive society and the political society; it is the maturation of the Bengali club, of peer bonds, of friendship and camaraderie.
A Durga Puja once rolled out is easier to maintain, but to start it anew is sociology of community mobilization worthy of documentation. While we have had histories of Durga Puja, we never had sociology of Durga Puja. Bengalis, constructed as a loser community, doing well only when outside Bengal, a community known for internal bickerings and mutual envy does put up a show that requires the dense accumulation of the finest variety of social capital. I wonder why did sociologists never study the Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is perhaps the only event in which not only the emotions and passions of the Bengali comes to fore but also his enormous spirit of entrepreneurship. Those who imagine that Bengalis have no business mind, no entrepreneurial capacity and no initiative to work hard must watch the puja preparations. Actually, the Durga Puja is the great displaced symbol of the Bengali enterprise and industry. Durga Puja happens precisely because avenues for a Bengali are blocked on so many fronts. Thus, to my mind, a study of the Durga Puja must be located in Bengal’s industry and not so much in its worship. A Bengali goes into Kalibari for worship, to the Ramkrishna Mission for sublime transcendence but a Durga pandap is never to be confused with her search for God. For the Bengali, the Durgamandap is her ramp walk, her ballroom, her art exhibition, her theatre for spectator art, her club lounge, in short, her space to locate and present her entire Being.
Bengal has always been an industrialized state; it was in the way of the Silk Road where India exported the chequered cloth known to Bengal as the gamchha but used as a hood by Arab men, medicines, oilseeds, mustard, poppy seeds, textiles, and other crafts like woven baskets and fishing nets, ropes and wooden planks for boats. After colonialization, trade of Bengal shifted expectedly to agro based products like indigo and jute and later to pure agricultural produce, paddy, or dhaan. Paradoxically, the destruction of industries also urbanized Bengal, built out of a culture of babudom, where babus were petty zamindars making money out of paddy auctions. Durga Puja was set up by this urbanized noveau riche, where the riches made them desirous of power but the colonial government denied its exercise to them. Durga Puja was thus a paradox; it was at once the manifestation of a new wave of cultural renaissance made possible with the rise of the new bhadralok class and at the same time a moment of tremendous powerlessness because of the usurpation of the government by the East India Company.
However, Durga Puja continued well into Independence and even after it; it only increased in number, scale and scope. It grew out of the Bengali’s sense of industry and innovation; out of its culture and creativity. It was Bengal’s Ala Mohan Das who raised foundries in Howrah to such a standard that even today manhole covers and drain cases are exported from here to Canada and Western Europe. Bengal’s printing is one of the best in India, textiles continue to rule and interestingly it is the only province where displacement due to Partition, or retrenchment from locked out factories has only spurned trade and manufacturing. The local train in Bengal sells stuff through which China once captured the world market. Bengal’s industries are based on community capital, social networks, patronages, creativity and innovation; the Durga Puja adds another vital angle, namely aesthetics. Durga Puja is Bengali’s dream industry, it has a team, camaraderie, social capital, community resources, civil society, civic consciousness, public relations, public sphere, and with that culture and arts. This kind of business also has another attraction; it ceases to be after a week leaving the Bengali to pursue other kinds of interests. Unlike a Marwari, the Bengali’s business is not about money-commodity-money, but money-product-culture. While the Bengalis has done business like nobody has, yet she cannot indulge in industry for money. Unfortunately for Bengal, Independent India’s polity has always supported the Marwari model of money making instead of the Bengali model of innovation, culture and the production of aesthetics. No wonder then Bengal has never trusted the “Centre” and always resented the Marwari.
Durga in her image of the warrior gives us the strength to defy the demon of the Marwari hiding behind the buffalo of the ‘Hindustanis” at the centre. It is an impulse of Bengali industry against the mindless and brain dead capitalism that the rest of India seems to laud. This is why, we cling to Durga. In Mamata Banerjee’s greeting card which she designed and painted she is seen ensconced in Durga’s lap, her protection against all that Bengal opposes via Durga. There is hardly an eye which is not tearful when Durga is immersed into the Ganges to return to her home with Shiva. We see in her immersion the pain of having to send a daughter away to her in-laws. Stories in Bengal are rife with Uma’s mother weeping at her imminent parting with the daughter as she marries and joins Shiva in the faraway mountains. Every Bengali, much like Uma’s parents fantasizes of keeping Durga with her for good. So we say, this time when Uma comes visiting we will not send her back, or as the saying goes ebaar uma ele..

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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2 Responses to ebaar Uma ele….

  1. Major thanks for the blog article. Really Cool.

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