Durga puja – the name is more than sufficient to bring joy and thrill among Bengalis. Durga Puja is not only a festival in West Bengal but it is an integral part of life for the people living here. You can sense the enthusiasm, the charisma in the air and people engaged in its preparation, 3-4 months beforehand. It is a chief discussion topic among people at the tea-stalls, a competitive environment for teenagers to compete for best idol of the deity and thematic pandals. It presents opportunities for artists to showcase their talent, be it sculptors or theatre artists. If you will ask your local tailor for stitching something, you will definitely get this answer “I don’t have time for it, come back after a month“. Well, Durga Puja brings a golden opportunity for everyone, the energy cycle starts rejuvenating as the festival comes closer. A festive spirit embraces the atmosphere and fills it with ecstasies, joy, and happiness all around.
Even on the T.V, you can find Mahalaya Stories, Bhakti songs singing of the divine power and love for Devi Durga. Huge entertainment programs, advertisement, and news revolving around the festival and its cheerful stories starts overflowing from the mainstream media. The country celebrates it in their particular diversified manner with many fervent citizens, but how many media channels including the television channels, newspaper companies, and the commercial radios shows you another existing side of the puja? As you may have heard, every coin has two sides. Similarly, there are two faces of this puja which mainstream media fails to bring forward before us. All India Radio, for example, broadcasts in 20-30 languages in all over the country but there are a large number of small communities who have their own regional dialects, their own unique culture, more importantly, their own version of popular stories.
I work at a community radio station in West Bengal and it makes programs on the local communities keeping them at the center of emphasis. We recently did a program on Hudur-Durga and tried to bring forward a local festival which is on the verge of extinct. Our team interviewed a key informant who knows about the ancient traditions and stories of the Santhal community. This is what he told us about Durga Puja,
“For others, Durga Puja is a festival of joy but for us it a festival of sorrow. One of our brave warriors was killed on this day, we lost our chief-our great leader. We don’t buy new clothes or cook delicious food and sweets at our home rather we express condolences and grief to our very lost leader.”
Astonishing, isn’t it? Yes, the lost leader is no-one else but Hudur-Durga or whom we call Mahishasur. Apparently, not a significant number of people are aware of the festival which is known as Dasai by the Santhals.
“During the prehistoric period, Kherwals (Santhals originated from Kherwals after which they formed the Santhal community) had a king who ruled a land called Chaichampa. Chaichampa was a land full of wealth and happiness where people were content and lived peacefully. In the midst of it, some Intruders (probably Aryans) attacked our land but lost the battle from our powerful, daring king and started making conspiracies against him. Our ancestors never attacked on women and they sensed this weakness of ours and purposefully married one of their women (an Aryan woman) with our king. When our chief was deceitfully killed by his newlywed wife, we were left with nothing but to escape from our own land. Men dressed as women and fled the place as to protect themselves from the enemies. Since the very day, we celebrate it as martyr day for Hudur-Durga. Dasai existed before Hudur-Durga’s death, but at that time it was a joyous celebration which changed to the festival of sorrow and grief. The songs are same but ‘Hay-Hay’ word got attached to it.”
The Santhalis do not worship Hudur-Durga, but commemorate the courageous leader and remember their abode Chaichampa.
“For the intruders, Hudur-Durga was an enemy and as they ruled our land further, they portrayed our king as evil which later became a history. Even according to Hindu scriptures, we are not Hindus and were designated as Asuras and Danavas. Our own people are forgetting our history and we don’t have any medium to convey our messages and stories to them so that we can influence them and preserve our tradition and ancient stories.”
Do our politicized, religiously influenced mainstream media has the courage to communicate this story in an intact way? Do they broadcast the regional stories and culture of minorities unless they get any profit or do they take initiatives for preserving the dying traditions? Do they provide assistance to the deprived regarding communication? Is it possible for them to do unbiased communication? I am sure we all have the same answers.