Almost 9,000 people gathered at the Ealing Town Hall in West London across four days of Durga Puja to be a part of the Bengal Heritage Foundation’s (BHF) biggest event of the year, the London Sharad Utsav (LSU), which resumed full-scale celebrations after curtailed festivities due to Covid-19 protocols over the past two years.
The 14th edition of the Sharad Utsav, with My Kolkata as digital partner, saw the BHF’s 175 members make the most of Bengal’s greatest festival in the English capital alongside visitors from across the UK as well as other parts of Europe. Also in attendance at the puja were the high commissioners of India and Bangladesh to the UK, Vikram Doraiswami and Saida Muna Tasneem, respectively. This was the first time that both high commissioners were present at a Durga Puja in the UK. Both congratulated the BHF for pulling off another memorable Puja and stressed on the “inclusivity and togetherness of the festival”. The prelude to the Sharad Utsav saw the publication of Sharodiya Parboni, the annual Puja edition of the BHF’s literary magazine, whose digital version is available here.
First-ever ‘kala bou snan’ in the Thames
A handful of BHF members went down to the Thames to participate in a unique ‘kala bou snan’Bengal Heritage Foundation
Sashthi came a day early in London as September 30 (Friday) witnessed the pratima boron and Sashthti puja in the afternoon, followed by a series of dance programmes, a tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II, the official inauguration of the London Sharad Utsav 2022 and Gaan Shudhu Gaan, a special performance by singer Sayoni Palit.
Saptami and Ashtami, observed on October 1 (Saturday) and October 2 (Sunday), respectively, followed a similar pattern in the first half of the day, which comprised the daily puja, chandipath, anjali and bhog. The departure on Saptami was significant as it marked the first time in the history of the Sharad Utsav that the kala bou snan was organised on the banks of the Thames, making Saturday even more special for everyone associated with the puja.
Ashtami afternoon saw the addition of kumari puja to the rituals while Ashtami evening involved dedicating a couple of hours to sandhi puja. The second half of Saptami was packed with festive cheer, as the BHF kids took centrestage through dance and drama, which succeeded a special Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav quiz. Ashtami culminated with antakshari, a Bollywood extravaganza and (just like it had happened on the previous two days) some freestyle DJ music post 9.30pm.
“I enjoyed the Durga Puja at the Ealing Town Hall with my family and friends from the LSU-BHF family. I enjoyed the musical and the dance performances, as well as going on stage to perform myself. The luchi and ice cream were my favourite food items over the last few days,” said seven-year-old Anaiah Majumder, who was at the Sharad Utsav on each of the four days with her parents and played an active part in the children’s cultural programme.
Puja occasion for multiple events
BHF members and other Puja visitors during the annual ritual of ‘sindur khela’Bengal Heritage Foundation
The Sharad Utsav’s Vijaya Dashami on Monday (the puja did not observe a Navami) was all about preparing to say goodbye to Maa Durga, with a yagna/homa spanning the afternoon, before the much-anticipated sindur khela took over in the early hours of the evening.
Speaking about this year’s celebrations. Suranjan Som, chair of trustees, BHF, said: “This year has been one of mixed emotions. On the brighter side, we celebrated the Queen’s platinum jubilee while also immersing ourselves in marking 75 years of Indian Independence. Durga Puja finally got recognised internationally as UNESCO acknowledged it as being a part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. On the other hand, we’re also grieving the death of Britain’s longest serving monarch. At LSU, our Puja was an embodiment of all these events and our thoughts and feelings regarding the same.”
Now that the Sharad Utsav, the flagship event of BHF, is over, the attention will slowly shift to the India leg of BHF’s cultural activities, with cricket and other engagements planned to take place in Kolkata towards the end of the year.