Hundreds of Hindus who emigrated to America from West Bengal will soon gather in Lawrence for a major celebration entwining religious, cultural and social overtones.
The 10th annual Midwest Sarbojanin Durga Puja -- an all-day event Oct. 23 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds -- will combine worship of the Hindu mother goddess Durga, meals featuring Bengali dishes and reunions of family and friends among Bengalis in the region.
"Durga is worshipped by Hindus all over India, but the expression of this worship as a cultural, religious and social festival is only dominant in West Bengal and the neighboring states," said Saibal Bhattacharya, one of about 40 Lawrence residents of Bengali heritage who are organizing the event.
"Durga Puja is the most important event on our religious and social calendar. It's akin to Christmas or Ramadan. It's also like Thanksgiving is celebrated here," Bhattacharya said.
"Families try to get together, sons and daughters who have been living away come back home. We want to celebrate it all together in a most joyous mood."
Durga Puja in India traditionally lasts four days. At the Lawrence celebration, it will be condensed into one day.
Bengali communities living in the Kansas City area and Lawrence take turns hosting the celebration. This will be the third time the Durga Puja is set to take place in Lawrence.
Three hundred to 400 people typically attend the event. Most of them are Bengalis, but some Western, non-Hindus who are interested in the faith and culture of India also participate, according to Bhattacharya.
Because of Kansas University, Lawrence is home to students and families who came to the area from Indian states such as West Bengal.
Bhattacharya, a petroleum engineer at the Kansas Geological Survey, estimated that about 50 Lawrence residents speak Bengali as their first language.
Bengali families living in Topeka, Salina and Manhattan are also expected to attend the event here.
The Durga Puja in Lawrence will be open to all members of the community, regardless of their faith.
"In India, it is always open; everyone is free to come and celebrate. The concept of closing the door to anyone is foreign, even in India," Bhattacharya said.
He explained that Hindus, especially Bengalis, worship Durga as the mother goddess, the embodiment of "shakti" (divine power). Durga is believed to be able to deliver human beings from evil, as well as bring peace and prosperity into their lives.
"Durga Puja is the greatest Hindu festival in which God is adored both as a mother and as a daughter. Hinduism emphasizes and encourages its followers to look upon God as one's own mother," said Bhattacharya, 40, who emigrated to the United States from the West Bengali city of Durgapur in 1992.
"But the most interesting part of Durga Puja is that, instead of placing Durga on a high altar and worshipping her from a distance, Bengalis embrace them in their hearts and make her an inseparable member of the family."
Along with Durga, Bengalis welcome her children (goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and gods Ganesha and Kartik) into their homes during the celebration.
"The Bengali woman welcomes the goddess Durga with a mother's love and sends away the image on the last day, with every ceremony associated with a daughter's departure to her husband's (Lord Shiva's) home and with motherly tears in her eyes," Bhattacharya said.
|The 10th annual Midwest Sarbojanin Durga Puja, organized by Lawrence's Bengali community, will be Oct. 23 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.Celebration of the Hindu goddess Durga -- considered the divine manifestation of strength, solidarity and peace -- will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Prasad (food that has been blessed) and lunch will be distributed from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.A cultural program is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Bidding good-bye to the goddess -- an activity called aarti -- will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dinner will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.Cost of a full-day's participation, including a Bengali lunch and dinner, is $25 per person. Cost for a half day of participation, including lunch or dinner, is $15.For more information about the event, contact Saibal Bhattacharya by e-mail at email@example.com. Or contact Ranu and Dhananjay Pal at 842-5812, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.To learn more about Durga Puja, visit these Web sites: www.bangalinet.com/durgapuja.htm or www.sivanandadlshq.org/religions/navaratri.htm.|