Interested in Learning About Durga Puja? Here’s a Course for You
From rituals to shlokas, this workshop takes you through the nuances of Bengal’s biggest festival.
Every year Kolkata hosts a unique workshop that invites people from all walks of life to take part and understand the rituals, customs and the essence of Durga Puja. The Sarva Bharatiya Prachya Vidya Academy – a school of Oriental Studies, organises a nine-day workshop to train people on how to conduct Durga Puja.
Started in 1994, the workshop intends to make people aware about the right rituals and customs and sensitise them about the importance of the right pronunciation of the shlokas. The founder and principal of the school, Jayanta Kushari states that he was approached by certain people to impart lessons on the right pronunciation of the shlokas that are recited in a puja.
Many of the priests, who conduct these pujas in various pandals, recite wrong chants and do not understand the meaning behind these shlokas. Since, we were already running an oriental school that taught Sanskrit and its relevance – we were perhaps the right people to start such a workshop.Jayanta Kushari, Founder of Sarva Bharatiya Prachya Vidya Academy
The first year, around 50 people applied for the workshop but only 12-16 were selected. One problem that they faced was the lack of space. Space was a major constraint at the reputed physician Kabiraj Ganga Prasad Sen’s residence in Kumortuli.
The room we were allotted was too small and we could only accommodate very few people.Jayanta Kushari
The next year, Kushari approached the Sovabajar Rajbari – of which he is the head priest – and sought permission to conduct classes in the campus. Since then, the workshop is being conducted inside the Rajbari.
Interestingly, each year, the workshop attracts people from diverse backgrounds. “Very few are Purohits by profession. Most are engineers, doctors, some are even IIT professors,” reveals Kushari.
A lot of the attendees attend the training simply out of curiosity, Kushari feels.
Not all who attend the workshop go out and conduct pujas at the pandals. Many are curious, some want to know if they are performing the right rituals. A lot of them come from families who celebrate puja at their homes. So understanding the process helps them conduct it properly at home.Jayanta Kushari
Kushari also points out that the workshop trains people of various castes. In Hindu religion, traditionally, only Brahmins are allowed to conduct the rituals but Kushari says that the essence of Durga Puja lies in the fact that it is for everyone.
“If the festival is for everyone to celebrate then who are we to stop people from other castes to take part in such an unique thing,” argues Kushari.
While Kushari and his colleagues are liberal and open to train people of different backgrounds about the customs of Durga Puja, the Priest community at large has objected to the workshop time and again.
“We had approached the Purohit’s Union to come forward and train others, but most were reluctant and asked us to not go ahead with it,” Kushari said.
The course not only trains people on how to conduct the puja, but also about the history and the origins of the festival. Then, there are classes on Sanskrit grammar, how to recite the prayers in a rhythmic manner, how to dress and maintain hygiene. The classes are conducted from 2 pm to 5 pm for nine days and the fees of the course is Rs 400 only. At the end of workshop, a test is conducted and students are awarded.
The 2017 session took place from September 6 to September 14 and around 225 people attended it, including women.
But are women allowed to conduct Puja?
According to customs, they (women) are not allowed to.Jayanta Kushari
“Most women who attend the workshop are mainly people who are interested to know the rituals and their meaning in details. None of them are priests.”
Has anyone raised objection due to participation of women?
“I personally feel women are placed at a higher level than men in the society. We men have worshipped women, the Devi, for centuries,” Kushari said.
We always conduct Kumari pujas, but have you ever heard of Kumar pujas?Jayanta Kushari
I think women will always be worshipped in our Hindu culture. But nowadays, they insist on learning everything that piques their curiosity,” says Kushari.
Word of mouth publicity has helped the workshop gain immense popularity over the years. “We do not have so much money to spend on publicity. Each year pamphlets are circulated announcing the dates of the workshop but most come to us after hearing about it from former students,” says Kushari.
(Shomini has written on lifestyle and entertainment for most part of her career. In a career spanning little over a decade, she has worked in Indiatimes, Zee News and Network18 – which was her last stint before she took a break to study Film Appreciation at FTII. While writing on cinema remains her first love, her other interests lie in topics like gender, society and Indian literature. An avid reader, she also dabbles in music and theatre when work permits her. Currently working as a freelancer, she is often found self-musing on her personal blog. )
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