Having spent five years of my childhood in Kolkata, my understanding of community and culture started to develop there. From studying and writing essays in school on Durga Puja, to witnessing live processions, the culture kept developing in my mind. This does not mean that I was kept away from my Punjabi culture, but yet, living in a particular region and being surrounded by that community had an impact on me. Walking into grand Durga Puja Pandals holding my parents’ hands, and watching people perform at those pandals, including myself, provided me with a sense of belonging to the community.
When I talk about my choice of the performance unique to the region/community, I have tried to bring light on the famous Dhunuchi dance and the dhakis, both forming an integral cultural aspect of the Durga Puja festival. To date, after almost fifteen years of leaving Kolkata, I still visit the pandals in New Delhi. To feel the smell of incense sticks, to hear the people speak in Bengali, the fragrant smoke filling up the surroundings, and the delicious Bengali sweets, everything makes my connection with the community, or I might as well say, my childhood, stronger. Being able to hear the sound of the dhak from the dhakis, even when outside of the pandal itself makes one realize that the idols have been placed.
The evening visit to the Pandal, especially on Shashthi tithi (sixth day) is incomplete without witnessing the jugalbandi (two art forms being tied together) between the dhakis and the Dhunuchi dance performers. Dhunuchi dance involves the devotees performing in order to please Goddess Durga by balancing the earthen bowl containing burning incense either with their hands, or on their forehead, and sometimes even mouth. The Dhunuchi dance, along with the beatings of the dhak by the dhakis, and to add the uludhwani (vocal sounds made by women) and shankh (shell sounds), all together create a rhythmic aura within the pandal, thereby making one lose connection with the outside world.
Whenever I got a chance to witness the Dhunuchi dance, even in the recent years, as an audience, the rhythmic aura that is created is always mesmerizing. The entire festival brightens up the streets, thereby forming an integral part of the culture of the city.