Sunday, October 5, 2008

#8 Arms: Durga Puja

Durga is a Hindu goddess celebrated in many different ways across India and the Hindu world. For Gujaratis it may be a garba dance on the last day of Navaratri; for Bengalis a four day long festival during which people finally stop talking about "literature.". No matter from where in India you hail, however, one thing is for sure for Indians in the United States. Different communities celebrate Durga in different ways but everyone who's held observance in her name has had that familiar experience of temple life outside India.

Our younger readers may not realize that there was a time in the U.S. when there were very few Hindu temples outside of New Jersey, LA or Chicago. Small Indian communities around the country usually rented out Church basements on Friday or Sunday nights to host their religious festivals. This made for awkward moments like performing Puja on a stage with busts of Ganesh crowded next to crucifixes of Jesus. Or community members strolling casually into their local Church to find a group of Indian kids playing freeze tag in the gym.

One thing that's surely carried over from yesteryear to today, however, is the cultural show portion of any temple function. No matter if you're gathered with family and friends to commemorate the legacy of Durga or your buddy Chirantan's Brahmin Sweet 16 at some point the stage will transform from dais to dance floor. Neepa and Soma will rhythmically reenact the battle between Ram and Ravana; Ricky's mom will perform a solo folk routine to remind everyone there is culture in India beyond Bhangra and Baratnatyam; and Sanmay's parents will force him to take the stage to awkwardly stumble through a rendition of the Star Wars theme on a Cassio keyboard. Yeah man, maybe you should have used the beat bank.

There is also temple parking lot football and the kid whom you only see once a year who tries to stop the game so that everyone can go inside to watch his dance. There are, as always, buffet lines and the mean uncle who manages to blame everything that goes wrong on the eldest leader of the kids whom he may or may not single out for being Muslim. There are Styrofoam cups of lukewarm soda and paper plates of veg-only meals. There are long folding tables, metal chairs and endless games of paper football. Oh yeah, I guess there's some religious shtuff too.

After the rasmalai and coffee it's finally time to go home. It's well past 11:30 and everyone wades through the piles of Floorsheims and Reeboks in the "shoe room". It's good-bye to your Indian friends for another few months as you head back to your life of being "the only Indian kid" in your neighborhood. We know that's not true but you keep on pretending like it is. It's Durga Puja and though we all celebrate in our own ways there are still some things that are undeniably Indian; and you know that's some stuff you like.


Jen Huang said...

I actually have some really great photos from a durga pooja! (must scroll down) you're welcome to use if you credit me. thx!

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