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This Durga Puja, Kolkata Women Usher In Change As They Take On Roles Of Priestesses, ‘Dhakis’ And Organisers

The four Hindu priestesses will set a new precedent in an area dominated by male priests, not only in West Bengal but other parts of the country.

Priestess Nandini Bhowmick and her colleagues Ruma, Semanti and Paulami. (India Ahead Network)

Kolkata: “Behind every successful man there is a woman,” goes the saying but behind every successful woman, there are her will, her struggles. While several Durga Puja themes this year portray the plight of women irrespective of their social standing, a group of women is set to create history this Pujo in Kolkata. The group led by priestess Nandini Bhowmick and her colleagues – Ruma, Semanti and Paulami – will be responsible for performing all the rituals in the five-day festival at 66 Pally. The four Hindu priestesses will set a new precedent in an area dominated by male priests, not only in West Bengal but other parts of the country.

After the death of their veteran male priest at the end of last year, the 66 Pally Puja committee decided to break the decades-long tradition and is hopeful that the change will be accepted by residents of the locality and the public, and they can carry on the practice in future.

The committee has themed its puja as ‘Mayer Haate Mayer Abahon‘ (Mother goddess will be worshipped by mothers), claiming it to be “Durga Pujor Itihase Ei Prothom (first in the history of Durga puja).”

Pradyumna Mukherjee, general secretary of 66 Pally, told reporters, “In Durga puja, women play a very integral role, from managing everything for puja rituals to being a part of the organising committee, so why can they not perform the rituals. The festival will be conducted following all the traditional rituals. The main purpose of this puja is to bridge the gender gap.”

Meanwhile, at Salt Lake BA Block, Sarbojoni Durgotsab stays away from any theme, preferring a traditional way of celebrating Durga Puja the residents’ association decided to hand over the responsibility of organising the puja to an all-women team. The women are in charge of not only the Puja committee but also of the other sub-committees like those for collection of chanda (donations) , making of souvenirs, bhog department and also for the idol immersion.

Joyeeta Pal, secretary of the Puja committee told India Ahead, “Last year also the women of the Block had organised and made all the arrangements for the puja. This year is our second year so we are more confident this time. The hiccups that were there last year are certainly not there this year. In total, more than 50 women from the block are actively participating in the various puja sub-committees that we have. We are all one big family and even though it is the women who are organising everything but the men are a great support system for us.”

On the other hand, Rail Vihar Durga Puja pandal near Ruby Hospital has decided to ring in the festive fever with a group of women dhakis. Sabita, Puja, Pinky and Sumi, who hail from Machhlandapur, will be adding rhythm to the rituals at the housing complex. According to the four women, they were forced to turn dhakis after they lost their jobs during the pandemic.

According to one of the organisers, the puja committee had decided to search for women dhakis for their puja and that is when the committee approached Nirmal dhaki in Machhlandapur and he agreed to sent a team of women dhakis. The organisers will be providing food, accommodation for the dhakis apart from a handsome remuneration.

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