Saturday, September 27, 2014

Darj bridges Hills-Plains divide with Durga Puja

Birendra Shandilya
Durga Puja is all set for a unique experience this time in Darjeeling. While the Nripendra Narayan Bengali Hindu Hall (NNBHH) commemorates the centenary year of Durga Puja in Darjeeling which will be marked by the idol being taken to Bangla Khola (a spring 16km away from town) for emersion in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a unique project, “Paharer Chokhe Samataler Pujo” (Pujas of the plains in the eyes of the Hills) will also be flagged off this Puja.
Nine children from economically underprivileged families will be taken to Kolkata to witness Durga Puja celebrations there. Not only will they witness the pujas, they will be judging and awarding the three best pujas along with the best idol in Kolkata!
This programme is being organized by “Concern for Human Welfare”, an  NGO backed by the Ramakrishna Mission Nivedita Educational and Cultural Centre (RKMNECC), Darjeeling. “This will be for the first time ever in the history of West Bengal that the Hills and Plains will share a common platform and judge pujas of Kolkata. Through this unique programme we have tried to build a bridge between the hills and the plains and bring smiles to the less privileged,” stated Amlan Biswas, General Secretary, CHW.
Most of the children come from the Kanchenview Tea Garden located on the edge of Darjeeling town. “All the nine attend the Gadadhar Avudhaya Prakalpa (GAP) at the RKMNECC. Under the GAP programme we impart regular education, physical activities and nutrition along with extracurricular activities to children from the economically backward strata of the society. From the 122 children attending GAP, the 9 were chosen based on attendance, performance and economic condition,” informs Swami Parananda, in-charge of GAP.
The nine are Ananya Chettri (11 years), Bilashna Tamang (11), Sharmila Dewan (12), Rishika Thapa (13), Nikita Tamang (14), Sarju Rai (9), Sahil Balmiki (10), Shailesh Rai (11) and Nitesh Tamang (13). Except Nikita and Nitesh, the others have never been out of Darjeeling town.
After a night halt at Siliguri, the nine will catch an early morning train to Kolkata on 28 September. They will visit different pandals on the 29th and 30th and judge the pujas. They will also hand out trophies to the three best pujas and the best idol on 30 September. On 01 October, they will visit Belur Math, Dakshineshwar Temple and  Belghoria Ramakrishna Mission Centre and return to Darjeeling on 02 October.
The children will be visiting Saltlake FD Block Sarbajanin Durga Puja; Sreebhumi Sporting Club, Baghbazar Sarbajanin Durga Puja, Md. Ali Park in North Kolkata and Bhawanipore Swadin Sangha; Tridhara Sammilani, Singhi Park, Ekdalia Evergreen; Naktala Udayan Sangha and Chetla Agrani Club in South Kolkata. “It is a dream come true for me. I have heard so much about Kolkata,” stated Sharmila Dewan.
The puja revelry has already begun in Darjeeling with the centenary celebration of the NNBHH commencing from September 23 with musical programmes at Chowrasta. The Chowrasta programme will continue till 28 September. On 29 September, the main puja will be inaugurated at the NNBHH premises, Chandmari, Darjeeling by Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia.
The Hall has a rich history. It was built in 1890, located in Chandmari the then “Indian” portion of the town below the Market Square. It was a two storied stone structure and contained a spacious hall in which public meetings of the Hindu community were held. The Mandir located on the premises of NNBHH was constructed in 1891.
Initially, the money required to build the Hall came through contributions made by the Maharaja of Coochbehar. The hall was later named “Nripendra Narayan Hall” in his memory.
Way back in 1915, the Bengali population of the Hill town first started celebrating the Durga Puja at the NNBHH. Great names like Swami Vivekananada, Sister Nivedita, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Acharya J. C. Bose have all paid visits to this hall. Elders claim that even KL Saigal, the legendary singer had once offered Pushpanjali (floral offerings) during Durga Puja here.
Though the puja is organized by the Bengali community, all other communities of the Hills, take active part in it.
The puja is a large attraction amongst the tourists, especially Bengali tourists who visit to offer Pushpanjali, watch the Aarati and eat Bhog. On the three days of puja, cultural shows are staged in the evening at the NNBHH auditorium. This year musical and dance troupes from Kolkata will be performing.
Before independence the image used to arrive from Krisnanagar, first to Siliguri, and then up to Darjeeling in the Toy Train having two engines one in the front and the other in the rear.
Since the early Fifties, the image is being brought from Siliguri, originally made by the Late Umesh Pal and, after his death, being commissioned to Debesh Pal and this year by Ashok Pal of Kumortuli, Siliguri.
The Bisarjan (emersion) is also unique. In the olden days the image used to be carried on a bamboo structure by the youngsters and taken all over town and immersed in Kakjhora, a spring in the outskirts of the town. Now, with Kakjhora crowded in by illegal constructions, the  image is carried on the shoulder and taken all over town and then by truck to a spring called Bangla Khola near Sonada.
“This time, the idol will be taken from Railway Station to Bangla Khola in a chartered DHR. The emersion procession will commence from the NNBHH at 10am on October 4,” informs Saibal Chakroborty, Secretary, Centenary Celebration Committee.

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