West Bengal is all set to welcome its favourite daughter, Ma Durga, to her paternal home. Although the celebrations are low-key because of COVID, the clubs in Kolkata have, nonetheless, thought of innovative ways to make this puja special.
The 66 Pally Club located in south Kolkata has traversed an uncharted path with its theme ‘Mayer Haate Mayer Abahon’ (Mothers worshipping the Mother Goddess). For the first time in the history of Durga Puja in Bengal, the puja rituals will be performed by priestesses and not by male priests.
The organising committee of 66 Pally has roped in the members of the all-women priestess group, Shubhamastu, comprising Nandini Bhowmik, Ruma Roy, Seymanti Banerjee and Paulomi Chakraborty to helm their puja this year.
Shubhamastu, that has already broken the shackles of patriarchy and old rituals, will conduct Durga Puja for the first time since its inception.
Pradyumna Mukherjee, general secretary of 66 Pally, said, “Our veteran male priest died last year. When we were planning for this year’s pujo, we thought of how women are not only making their presence felt but are excelling in every sector.”
“If you look at Durga Puja itself, women play an integral role. They are involved as creative artists, they make the arrangements that enable the priest to perform the rituals and they are also part of the organising committee. So why can’t they perform the rituals? Why can't the Mother Goddess be worshipped by the mothers? This led us to approach Nandini Bhowmik and Shubhamastu. Since they had not conducted any pujo before, they initially declined our offer. But, we were finally able to convince them.”
Even though they took time to accept the offer, the members of Shubhamastu are happy and excited.
“While Shubhamastu has conducted social ceremonies like weddings, housewarming and memorial services, we have not conducted any religious ceremonies. So, initially we were nervous but members of 66 Pally convinced us and I started researching,” said Nandini Bhowmik.
It took six months of research to chalk out the script. “I referred to the Puran, our ancient literature and texts, to gather all information pertaining to worshipping Ma Durga. We now have a script that we will follow and although there will be innovative portions interspersed with lots of songs that are the hallmark of Shubhamastu, we understand the sentiments that Durga Puja evokes. Thus, we have kept the basic rituals associated with it and age-old traditions intact,” said Bhowmik.
In the true Shubhamastu way, while Bhowmik and Roy will perform the rituals and also explain some if those so that people can gain deeper understanding, Banerjee and Chakraborty will render the songs.
While the members of 66 Pally Puja committee are overwhelmed by the positive response, members of Shubhamastu see this as a step towards social change. “Ruma, Seymanti, Paulomi and I will be performing Durga Puja! Unbelievable! Also traditionally, women are not allowed to touch the Narayan shila and Durga Puja cannot be conducted without Narayan. This year, four women will be conducting the Narayan snan (bathing) and also worshipping him! Need I say more?’ said Bhowmik.