The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Southern flavour sets festive fare tone

For a slice of authentic Kerala on Bengali turf, the Suruchi Sangha Durga puja must top the must-see list of pandal-hoppers. With around 14 city-based Kerala associations pitching in for the festival, the New Alipore puja promises to be a Bengali affair garbed in Malayalee tones.

“The Kerala association in this year’s puja started out as part of our effort to showcase a 3,000-year-old dance form of the state,” said president, Suruchi Sangha, Aroop Biswas on Monday. “We wanted to highlight the present status of this traditional form,” he added.

But as things started rolling out, the country’s southern-most state inched its way into the Bengali bastion. Now, almost every aspect — from the pandal to the evening soirees, the decor to the foodstuff — has got a distinct Malayalee touch.

While the entrance to the Suruchi Sangha pandal has been designed after the doorway to a gopuram-style temple, the main structure takes the shape of a Malayalee kettuvallam (boat). “About 60,000 vilakkus (small lamps) will light up the pandal. And all this, essential for an authentic feel of Kerala, wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the Malayalee associations,” acknowledged Biswas.

Cutting across religious borders, the 14 associations have almost formed a minuscule Kerala in New Alipore, featuring members of the Christian and Muslim communities.

“We are helping out in every possible way, including the pandal décor and the evening soirees,” said K.P. Shamim of Kerala Muslim Association. “We plan to hold an Opanna recital, a traditional dance of the community, in the evening,” he added.

Giving a glimpse of the role Malayalee women will have in the New Alipore puja, Rugmini Karunakaran, joint secretary of Keraleeya Mahila Samaj, said: “In our community, women are usually behind the show in most religious ceremonies. Here, apart from organising the cultural programmes, we will also provide volunteers to tackle the crowd.”

The Kerala Catholic Social Service Centre feels the event will go a long way in integrating Malayalee Christians in the Bengali fold. This opportunity has allowed us a rare peek into the nitty-gritty of the Durga Puja,” asserted association spokesperson K.V. Francis.

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