Saraswati Puja – my most favourite festival
It’s my most favourite festival; even more favourite than Durga Puja. Especially in Bengal, Saraswati Puja has a different charm all together for a number of reasons.
Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge and is mainly worshipped by students, usually at homes. Call it a tradition or a religious diktat, one is not supposed to study on Saraswati Puja. Now, who needs a better reason to cast aside books for one day and have fun? and that too, legitimately! I used to place all the books of my most dreaded subjects and the pen which I would use during the final examination beside the idol for the whole day. Next day, I used to collect them, write “Om Saraswatya Nama” on a piece of paper and then start studying vigorously. After all, final examinations always used to be some 2 weeks away and I had to make up for one day of lost time 🙂
Saraswati Puja is the Valentine’s Day of Bengalis, especially for the teenaged lovers. It’s a day when they can go out of the house, spend as much time as possible with their loved ones and not be questioned by their parents. You can roam around with ten different boys throughout the year, but the one guy you will be seen on Saraswati Puja is sure to be your boyfriend! On one particular year, I was going to a friend’s house and met a common guy friend on my way, who was going to the same place. We went there together and for the next two weeks, I had to fight rumours of that guy friend being my boyfriend! After all, we were spotted together on Saraswati Puja!
I have seen so many love stories make and break on Saraswati Puja. Cupid manages to strike Bengalis in strange ways on this particular day. While I was in school, I used to visit a friend’s place every year to offer pushpanjali (offering of flowers). After the puja was over, both of us used to carry prasad to neighbouring houses. My friend had been eyeing a particular guy in her neighbourhood for quite sometime and, finally managed a chance to speak to him on a particular Saraswati Puja, when we went to his house with prasad. It should be mentioned here, that his house was a bit further down the lane and not one of the houses, where we were instructed to visit 🙂
On Saraswati Puja, girls always wear a sari, notwithstanding the fact that her age can be anything between 5 and 25 years! Saraswati Puja is probably the only festival where even young girls embrace sari in the most enthusiastic fashion. And the preferred colour is usually hues of yellow 🙂
I wore a sari for the first time when I was in class IX, on the occasion of Independence Day celebrations in school. It’s better to say that I was forced to wear a sari on that day and I returned with half the garment in my hand! Since my mom had managed to break the barrier, she insisted that I wear a sari on Saraswati Puja, later that year. I did, again with disastrous results. At the end of the day, I somehow ended up looking like I have been shooting for Draupadi’s bashtra haran scene for a movie! Hence for me, sari and Saraswati Puja were not synonymous, unlike all other Bengali girls.
The founder of my school, Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a member of Brahmo Samaj, the sect which does not believe in worshipping idols. That is why, Saraswati Puja was never celebrated in my school and this was always a big regret for me. I used to be quite jealous of my neighbourhood friends, who used to go to school on that day to offer pushpanjali and have khichdi for lunch. For all the years of missed-out fun, I more than made up for it during my law school days.
Saraswati Puja is a wholly student-managed affair in my college. Right from buying the idol, to shopping for the puja, to cooking the bhog, to even doing the puja, the students do it all. I have always taken active part in it every year. Each and every year holds special memories of the occasion for me.
Being creatively inclined, I used to take the initiative about drawing a rangoli in front of the idol every year. I used to wake up at around 5 am, gather all volunteers and finish the rangoli before 8-30 am, before the puja is started.
And despite all my disastrous history of managing a sari, I almost always wore one during the college celebrations 🙂 And that too, in Bengali style 🙂
The puja is also conducted by the students. Any interested student of any caste, creed or religion could be a part of the puja celebrations. I sat for puja for two consecutive years from my batch and it had been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. There is always one student, who knows all the rituals and guides the rest of the students through the process.
In my final year, my first cousin got married the day before Saraswati Puja and there were a number of rituals lined up for the next day. I gave all that a miss, rushed to college, sat for the puja and then rushed back post-lunch, just in time to catch my cousin’s bidaai function. Despite all the rushing to and fro that I had to do across the length of the city that day, I was glad that I did not miss my final Saraswati Puja in campus. 🙂
Lunch in college always comprised of delectable khichdi, mixed vegetables, eggplant fry, chutney, payesh and sweets. Students line up on the floor and are served by the volunteers. Being a senior in law school always meant forcing the kid of the first year to serve extra helpings of sweets or payesh.
Evenings used to be spent by organising one of the most popular programmes – inter-batch antakshari competition, where, somehow, every year, the team comprising of the final year of students used to win 🙂 Sometimes, one or two enthusiastic faculty also joined in to give a hard competition to the students.
Dinner again used to be vegetarian affair, but I, despite being the hardcore non-vegetarian that I am, for once, never complained about it 🙂
Today is Saraswati Puja – my most favourite festival. No more college celebrations for me. Moreover, it does not feel like Saraswati Puja any more.
I now have to go to office for some urgent pending work, despite it being a holiday 😦
An edited version of this post appeared in N-Zine on their special issue on Festivals 🙂