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Durga Puja Essay Topics

Sean McLain/The Wall Street Journal
Goddess Durga arrives on earth on Shashthi, the sixth day, and the idols are unveiled at thousands of pandals.

The idols were submerged on Monday, ending the Durga Puja festival in India.

Part Thanksgiving, part Lent, part state fair, Durga Puja is six days of fasting and feasting, prayer and Bacchanalia. Some households, like that of my wife’s family, have a definite bias towards the latter.

While Durga Puja is celebrated in several states across India, the epicenter is West Bengal, where the state grinds to a halt and then erupts in a massive display of pageantry. Families gather. Housing societies and clubs erect “pandals,” or elaborate structures to worship the Hindu mother goddess Durga, which they spend the whole year planning. Late night pandal-hopping provides an alibi for young people to meet and romance. And everyone gorges on so much food that they are disgusted with themselves. The process is repeated every day, literally ad nauseum.

The Hindu festival celebrates the annual visit from the heavens by the goddess Durga and her four children: the goddess of wealth Lakshmi, the goddess of wisdom Saraswati, the elephant god Ganesh, and the bachelor god Kartikeya. It also commemorates Durga’s defeat of the buffalo demon Mahishasura, who, according to Hindu belief, had the ability to transform from a man to a water buffalo at will.

Over the three days that I was at my in-laws in a small town in West Bengal, I consumed approximately two whole goats, so much fish that I think I might now be amphibious, as well as enough sandesh (dry curd mixed with palm sugar), naru (balls of roasted coconut and palm sugar), and rasagullas (curd balls boiled in sugar syrup) to ensure an early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Most people will tell you to visit Kolkata for “pujo,” as the Bengalis say it. And that’s not a bad suggestion. But going to Kolkata, if you’re not from Kolkata, is like going to New York for Christmas. Yes, the tree at the Rockefeller Center is lovely, but it’s never the same as going home for the holidays.

If you really want to experience a pujo, you need to be either Bengali, or marry a Bengali, which is what I did. If you haven’t done either of these things, you’ll still enjoy pujo, but you’ll miss many important aspects of the festival, including the fact that pujo is really a beauty pageant.

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I returned with eight jamdani and muslin saris — renowned among sari aficionados — for my wife, her cousin, her niece and my mother-in-law. This was essential since Bengali women must have at least one, preferably two, new saris to wear on every day of pujo. If they don’t have sufficiently flashy saris from interesting parts of the subcontinent, they will be judged, and you, as a husband, will suffer for it.

You’ll also miss out on the adda, a Bengali word that loosely translates as gossip, but also carries connotations of intellectual conversation and is synonymous with copious amounts of whisky drinking.

A word of caution: do not attempt adda with Bengalis. They will make you feel weak as you crawl off to bed at 10:30 p.m. and then your wife will wake you at midnight and tell you it’s time for dinner.

If you and your liver survive, you’ll be rewarded for your endurance with a massive satchel of food that will account for your entire carry-on allowance on the flight home. And you’ll need it to sustain yourself during the week it will take you to recover.

Here are some photos of the holiday:

Sean McLain/The Wall Street Journal
Pandals, temporary structures for religious ceremonies, have become increasingly catholic, encompassing other religions, including Christianity and, in this case, Buddhism. 
Sean McLain/The Wall Street Journal
Bengalis gather at temples after a night of fasting to offer prayers on Ashtami, the eighth and holiest day of Durga Puja. 
Sean McLain/The Wall Street Journal
At a fairground in Siliguri, families ate dinner in front of a pandal modeled after the Lotus Temple in New Delhi.
Sean McLain/The Wall Street Journal
108 clay lanterns are lit on the night between the eighth and ninth day of Durga Puja, when the goddess is believed to have fought and defeated the demons Chanda and Moula. 
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
An idol of goddess Durga is immersed in a lake in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh on the last day of the festival. 
Diptendu Dutta/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
An idol of goddess Durga is submerged in a river in Siliguri, West Bengal.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Women prayed as an idol was immersed in the Yamuna river in New Delhi. 

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