Puja is a celebration of life ….not just a festival

Mukul Kumar Das
7 min readOct 3, 2022


I can remember that feeling even today!

The wait is that Puja will come at the beginning of October; the air has already become moist with the dues. It’s autumn.

The night jasmine will start flowering the night. The nearby river will recede, and beautiful small sandy islands will pop up. The Kashful will cover the banks. Imagine on a breezy full moon night you are amidst them! It’s blissful.

And then puja comes!

For us, it was always more than a religious festival. People in the village in Assam, it was temporary freedom from the mundaneness of life, a celebration, and a beautiful escape.

It was a hope, an excitement, beautiful anticipation.

The excitement started when the first skeletons of the Puja idols were outlined. They were bare; in the bamboo sticks, a bunch of straws was wrapped in a shape.

Following 10 to 15 days, we witnessed how slowly idols were becoming complete. First, the clay work was dried, and then the artisan started painting.

The ultimate excitement was one or two days before the Panchami puja when the eyes were drawn to Maa Durga. This is no less than a wonder; until they were drawn, they looked like a lifeless statues; once the eyes were done, they got life. I used to get excited to see those eyes as they wanted to speak to me something silently. I used to get a mild shiver silently.

In the meantime, our primary concern was when pita ( father) would buy our new dresses. This was no less than a nail-biting wait. We were a family with very limited means. If my father did not get a salary, we had no other means that he would be able to buy our new dresses for the puja. In lower Assam village, parents will buy a new pair of dresses for their kids at least in a year during the puja. This is a milestone of parenthood’s responsibility; even the daily wage laborer will buy new dresses for their kids. For most of us, this was one single occasion when we used to get new dresses.

Our tension used to build when pita would get the darmoha ( salary) and go to a fancy Bazar in Guwahati to buy our dresses. If the puja is in the middle of the month, he will not get a salary. Then he will try to get some salary advance or a teacher’s co-operative loan so that he can buy dresses for us.

If the puja comes at the beginning of the month, he would not get the salary and be able to manage. I have seen many times he used to go to the IS ( Inspector of Schools) office for the salary, and after a grueling day, he came empty-handed as the salary was not remitted. The entire family used to share the anxiety and tension. We were bonded by one event called Puja.

When he got the salary just nick of the time, I could see his big smile. We were relieved.

However, the problem was not over there. Then the following tension, will he be able to buy a complete dress or will he buy only a shirt or pants?

Today I can feel the pain of the parents who could not buy a pair of dresses for their children. My heart wrenches.

When I was in class nine, I got my best dress. I do not know what happened this year; my father bought me my first polyester shirt, half sleeve, grey-colored half pants, and a leather chappal. So far, I have used to manage with Hawaii chappal only. In October, a half sleeve shirt and half-pants did not make much sense because winter was nearing. Today I can see that my father would have bought that to save a few bucks there. I still remember two shirts he bought for Fifty Four rupees. One shirt was for my brother. The chappal cost Twenty-seven rupees. Mine was in on a blue floral print, and my brother’s one was in light red and had a beautiful design. I thought my brother’s shirt was better. But that year, Puja’s gift was beyond my expectation.

There was no car in our entire family; my father had an old bicycle. There were no means of public transport in the village, one or two line buses daily. There were not even too many cycle rickshaws, and very few people could afford to ride one. So, our usual mode of travel was walking. During the Puja in the morning, we used to make plans with our friends who all would go together to see the idol and do a few pandals hopping — and unlike the urban areas, the pandals in rural areas were not close by; they were at least 4/ 5 kilometers away. Yet we had all the enthusiasm to hop the pandals on foot. Once my father told us that he would take all of us to show the Puja in Rangia, a nearby town around 6/ 7 kilometers away. We were very excited. The entire family and my Mahi ( aunt) went to Rangia, walking on the gravel road, and we hopped many pandals there. Towards the evening, we were dead tired. We had tea and sweets and then visited one of my father’s acquittances for some time and recoup. We were so tired that walking back home another 6/7 kilometers on the gravel road looked impossible. My father could understand the situation, and even though it was very expensive for him, he decided to hire a cab. I was super excited because I got a chance to ride a car for the first time. I think it was mark-II ambassador, pretty old; the doors had to be literary slammed to close. We were 7 /8 people inside stuffed like gunny bags, yet that ride was memorable. My father paid 60 or 75 rupees for the ride, which was a lot of money then, and I felt a little bad that my father had to spend that money out of his means.

Assam always had a very pluralistic society. We grew up celebrating all religious festivals; on the one hand, we had Naam Kirton in our house and followed Gurujona ( Sri Sri Sankardeva — the great Vaishnavite guru and his ways of praying Krishna through Sangkirton). On the other hand, we celebrated all Pujas. We never had any problem with that. Not only that, all the communities celebrated Puja together. Puja bounded all communities, and it transcended the celebration.

Unlike our neighboring state, West Bengal eating sweets in the rural areas in Assam was not a very prevalent practice. Instead of sweets made from Maida (refined wheat flour) or chana ( curdling of milk), people used to make Pitha ( traditional rice cake) with Coconut and Molasses. During Durga Puja, the scene is completely different; nobody makes Pitha during those days. All pandal will have rows of make-shift sweets shops where freshly prepared sweets will be sold. Khurma ( a sweet made of Maida and sugar sauce), Jalebi, Laddu, Kata Nimki ( a savory item), etc. We all used to have sweets without keeping track and an almost full stomach. Buying half kg or a kg sweet while returning from the pandal was almost like a ritual.

The best part was the pocket money during puja. During our school days, we were never given pocket money. We used to have full stomach rice and go to school, and even if you come back home at 3 0r 4 PM, we used to have rice again. They were no practice of snacking or tiffin. However, Puja days were special. Every day we used to get some pocket money — typically a few coins. I remember my father gave coins worth 40 to 50 paise ( never got a full rupee). With that, we have to manage the day. Typically in the pandal, we buy a balloon which 5 or 10 paise, eat fried chana with 10 paise or vegetable pakora with 10 paise, etc. So, in the first 30 minutes, we will buy a couple of things, exhaust our money,and feel sad that no more money is left. If we are lucky, we meet our uncle or aunt; they will understand from our faces that we are silently asking for something, and they will give few coins. Life was yet fantastic, happy, and exciting.

I remember that I always wanted to buy a toy pistol priced at 75 paise then. But I was never given that much money in one go, so I had only two options, either accumulate the money for 2 / 3 days without spending, and once we have 75 paise, I buy a toy pistol, or I spend the little money I had every day and buy stuff that day only. I was not okay with delayed gratification, so I had given up on instant temptation and hence could never buy a toy pistol in my childhood. Later I used to joke about this with my mom to her almost embarrassment and tease how miser was they!

Today when I look back, my past sometime looks alien. I feel so grateful to live that happiness and joy were not confined to possessions but were in exploration. Today, we all have more possessions and less joy and happiness.

And Durga puja always brings back the celebration of life.

It allows us to break free and paves a beautiful path to joy and happiness.



Mukul Kumar Das

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