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Harmony in festive fervour

Darjeeling, Oct. 10: The celebrations were more social than religious in nature.

At least that is what the Phulpati rally looked like with Muslims and Buddhists joining the procession to herald the Dassai (Dussehra) celebrations in the Hills.

The spirit was festive as hundreds of people joined the colourful procession which snaked its way through the Hill town on a sunny morning. The scene was picture perfect with residents and tourists joining the rally to shake their legs to the rhythm of madal and dhamphu (a traditional Nepali musical instrument).

Girls bedecked in the traditional chaubandi cholo (a dress) led the procession, as masked dancers impersonating the Mother Goddess gave a religious tinge to the celebrations.

The Phulpati rally that was brought out from Old Gorkha Station, near Ghoom, however, turned out to be a social and cultural get-together with members of the Bhojpuri, Bengali, Tibetan and Dhupka communities joining the procession.

Every community was represented by members in traditional attires, who sang songs that reverberated across the mountains.

Phulpati is a unique custom of the Gorkhas in which community members collect flowers, petals and other offerings from their respective houses and take them to the community Puja to pay obeisance to Durga. The decorated palanquin carrying sacred flowers, holy leaves and sugarcane tied in red cloth ' the colour symbolising the Mother Goddess ' is usually accompanied by an ornate umbrella. It is believed that people who pass underneath the palanquin get absolved of their sins.

The rally was greeted by Subash Ghisingh at Chowrastha, and for once, most people forgot his attempt to politicise the Durga Puja. Even members of the Tamang community, which has boycotted the Hindu festival of Dassai and has embraced their traditional Lochar festival, was seen taking part in the procession.

At Chowrastha, a huge crowd gathered to watch the daylong cultural programme where every community that took part in the procession, participated. Around 47-odd communities took part in the rally today.

Altaf Fazili, vice-president of Anjuman Islamia, which represents the Muslim community here, said: 'We take part in the event as Dassai has become a social festival in the Hills. We are proud to be part of the celebrations. This also reflects the secular nature of our community and the communal harmony that exists here.'

Late in the evening, Ghisingh inaugurated the much hyped 'musical fountain'.

At the ceremony Ghisingh got irritated with the organisers for playing Bande Mataram at the programme instead of a 'religious song' to go with the festive atmosphere.

In Kurseong, the traditional lakhay dance of the Gorkha community was performed on the occasion of Phulpati. Starting from the INA Bus Terminus, a troupe brought from the Ilam district of Nepal danced its way to the Kurseong motor stand.

'The dance is the cultural asset of the Newari community,' said Bhima Pradhan, the leader of the nine-member troupe.

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