October is a month for a great many festivities in the Hindu religion. While October signifies the arrival of colder, darker, and shorter days, Hindus everywhere celebrate Diwali, the festival of light, Navratri, and Durga, the very embodiment of strength. The Durga Puja at Upton Park, then St James Hawkey Hallhas been run by the Bengali Cultural Association, an organisation that sponsors Hindu Bengali events, for the last 41 years, according to the Assistant Secretary, Mr Indranil Ganguly. This proves that Hinduism has been established well in London for many years.
According to Hindu mythology, the thousand armed goddess Durga was created by Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu (the Hindu trimurti - three main gods) and also Indra and the other gods, to destroy the leader of the asuras (Mahisha Asura) who was invincible apart when killed by a female. Much like the Greek Pandora, the gods gave many powers like intelligence and beauty, and also supplied her with weapons. Durga Puja celebrates Durga’s victory over Mahisha Asura, and is symbolic for the triumph of good over evil.
The Bengali Cultural Association itself, was created in 1973, when Saraswati Puja (a festival celebrating the goddess of speech and learning)was celebrated in Stratford Hall, organised by Mr Hiranmoy Banerjee, and greatly lauded and welcomed by the local Bengali community. In 1975, Mr Jogen Mishra and his friends set up the first Durga Puja, at Hindu Temple, Cedars Road Stratford.
Many Hindus, such as myself, are given hope by the coming of Durga Puja; Mallika Chattopoday, who is an executive committee member of the Bengali Cultural Association, believes that “Durga is (the Hindus’) power.” As Hindus, we believe that Durga Puja is the best time of the year, not just because of the enjoyments we partake in, but also because it is a time when the good and the right prevails over the unjust.”
I have been going to the St James Hawkey Hall to enjoy the festival for a couple of years. I always felt that the beauty of the Durga pandal, the altar which includes statues of Durga defeating the embodiment of evil, a demon, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha and Saraswati, god and goddess of learning, is simply unsurpassable. The Durga statue was made in Calcutta, and was brought all the way here, as I have been told by Chattapoday. Its significance is very profound – it has especially impressed one man: Dr Kaushik Banerjee, who explained the statue’s deep meaning, of victory of the enlightened over ignorance. ‘The other name of Durga is the Remover of Obstacles: Durga brings joy and light and confidence, so we can overcome ignorance and obstacles.”
The Durga Puja itself has a great impression on many Hindus: Sreela Haldar, a regular Hindu devotee, explained how this has helped connect her with her roots; “from our childhood, we were used to this culture, so when we came here, we have brought our culture here, so our children can know their heritage.” She later said that she herself felt strong positive associations to the Durga Puja because “it was a time when (they) were bought new clothes, and had a good time enjoying (the festival.” When Durga Puja comes around every year I feel very excited because of the festive feelings which are prevalent in my family. Though I believe the feeling of goodness and kindness is, and should be, permanent throughout the whole year, this is definitely a time when Hindus are reminded of those feelings, as well as happiness and hope.