Durga Puja

My informant AM is an international student from Singapore, and her family is originally from Bengal, India. She goes back to Bengal every year, and spends most of the time in the capital city Kolkata.


Main piece:

“Durga Puja” is a traditional festival of India. People celebrate the festival for 10 days. “Durga” is the goddess Durga, and “Puja” means “prayer”. The festival is in different time every year, but is around October and November.


AM: “We’re celebrating several things in this festival. Firs of all is Durga. We call her “the mother”, she is very respected, because she’s really powerful. She has ten hands, each of the hands hold a weapon. She is known as defeating an evil Buffalo demon. Thinking about Indian Gods, there’re so many of them. So Durga have so many forms, that she shared the same identity with some other gods and Durga is one form. In Bengal, we celebrate this incarnation of the goddess, which is Durga. She is married to one of the three main gods, Shiva.

“During a traditional Indian marriage, there’s a whole ceremony in the wife goes to the husband’s home. So during Durga Puja, these 10 days are believed as the time when Durga come back to her mother’s home. And at the last day of the festival, she goes back to Shiva’s home.

“The festival in total is 10 days, but the celebration starts at the 6th day. I don’t really know the reason behind this, but I do think we celebrate Durga Puja differently in Singapore than how people do it in India. So on the 6th day in Singapore, we have food fair for the festival. But there’s one common thing. Just to clarify, during the festival, it is Durga and her four children come to visit us, and we have statue of the five of them – Durga in the middle and her children aside. At the tenth day, in India, people will rewrap the statue of Durga and float it into the Bengali Rive. But we don’t do it in Singapore, cause it’s illegal, so we just rewrap the statue and send it back, which symbolizing she goes back to her husband’s home.”


Context of the performance:

This is a section from a conversation with my informant AM about how Indian culture and traditions are practiced in Singapore.


My thoughts about the piece:

I later discussed with AM about the how Indian culture regard women, and gender difference in general. I remember a ethnographic film Mardistan (2014) directed by anthropologist Harjant Gill, which talks about how patriarchal order is controlling over both women and men, specifically in the city of Chandigarh. I mentioned this to AM and she told me this is a really tricky thing to say, because there’re really modern cities like Mumbai but there are also many rural areas. But it seems to both of us that, due to the fact that there are so many festivals celebrating goddess, mother gods, Indian is not as what people would stereotypically regard as the typical patriarchal country. The part of Indian identity is really matriarchal, that people respect to the mother figure, but there’s also sexism in society too.


See the ethnographic film Mardistan here: https://vimeo.com/120182667