Durga Puja in Singapore: Bengali community returns to the festival with themes of sustainability, equality, inclusivity

The theme of ‘sustainability’ has joined the two original themes ‘equality’ and ‘inclusivity’ in Durga Puja 2023 celebrated by the Singapore Indian Puja Association (SIPA). The Association, which describes itself as the “living embodiment of a mission rooted in Solidarity, Inclusivity, Positivity, and Affability”, has integrated sustainability in every aspect of its Durga Puja celebrations.

The venue for the SIPA celebrations is the Singapore Sindhi Association and the Durga Puja 2023 dates are October 20 to October 24. Photo courtesy: SIPA

Though it needs no introductions, having been celebrated for centuries, Durga Puja — or, simply, “Pujo” to everyone everywhere who speaks Bengali — has made even more headlines ever since it was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2021.

Durga Puja 2022 was special for SIPA as Singapore lifted all pandemic-related restrictions from April, and that momentum has been carried forward in Durga Puja 2023. Family reunions are a big part of “Pujo” for Bengali diaspora across the world, and Bengalis in Singapore are looking forward to that as well.

“Durga Puja 2023 will be the second year of post-pandemic pujo, [and] we’re hoping to see more senior citizens during this pujo as many will be able to invite their parents to join them for Durga Puja in Singapore,” said Shirshendu Bhattacharya, one of the senior office-bearers of SIPA, in an interview with Connected to India.

Dhunuchi naach (women dancing with an incense holder to the beat of dhak, or the traditional drums) is one of the highlights of the evening aarti, offered daily during Durga Puja. Photo courtesy: SIPA

Highlighting the sustainability aspect of its celebrations, SIPA said, “Our commitment to the environment mirrors our dedication to positivity. By reusing last year’s idol, we honour tradition and minimise our carbon footprint. We’re eliminating single-use plastics, offering filtered water refills, and encouraging attendees to bring tiffin boxes. Prasad (food offered first to the deity and then distributed among the worshippers) will be served on eco-friendly shalpata (tree leaves crafted to make plates).”

These are admirable measures, because Durga Puja, splendid and artistic though it is, also generates a lot of non-biodegradable waste, including disposable plastic glasses. SIPA is taking care to see that its “Pujo” sends out a different message.

Socialising and eating sweets and savouries are the two fun things to do during Durga Puja. Photo courtesy: SIPA

This year, SIPA has got a hearty shoutout from the eminent Indian quizmaster Siddhartha Basu, host of Quiz Time, a landmark show on Indian television, and later of Mastermind India and University Challenge. Basu, who is of Bengali ethnicity, has created a Durga Puja quiz for SIPA and commended the Association on a special video. The video will be officially unveiled by SIPA closer to the Durga Puja dates.

The venue for the SIPA celebrations is the Singapore Sindhi Association and the Durga Puja 2023 dates are October 20 to October 24. Incidentally, the eastern Indian (Bengali) festival of Durga Puja runs concurrently with the northern Indian festival of Navratri (nine nights). Durga Puja is traditionally celebrated for five days, from Shashthi (sixth day) to Bijoya Dashami (tenth day), which is on the same day as Dussehra, the conclusion of Navratri.

Everyone dancing to the beats of dhak. Photo courtesy: SIPA

While the celebrations in India follow the panjika (almanac), organisers overseas sometimes shift their festivities to catch the weekend closest to the actual Durga Puja dates, in order to maximise the community participation. SIPA is following the almanac dates; Saptami (seventh day) and Ashtami (eighth day) of this year’s Puja are already falling on Saturday and Sunday.

“SIPA is a very new organisation; Durga Puja 2023 would be our second Puja,” said Bhattacharya. “In our first year of Durga Puja, we were able to welcome people from different parts of the [Singapore] community — we had a healthy participation from Odisha, North East, and the northern part of India, and also from the Sindhi community.”

In its second year, the Durga Puja festivities by SIPA are set for an even greater degree of community participation.