Why are more than a 100 people spending long hours crammed in an ordinary looking hall in one of the quieter by-lanes of Bromley, Letchworth Drive to be precise? Looking across the city, the same spectacle can be witnessed across scores of similar venues…. some even significantly larger than this one at Bromley and then, there are similar events across the whole of UK? What exactly is going on – clearly this is not a gig or a political event or even a screening of the latest movie!! The answer is – Durga Puja is being celebrated at these venues!!!

Durga Puja is a Hindu festival celebrated over 4 days every year, predominantly by Bengalis (ie. people from Bengal, an Indian state). This year it was celebrated from Friday 20th October to Tuesday 24th October in UK.

It is believed that Goddess Durga, her children, and her husband (Lord Shiva) live in the Kailash (a mountain in the Himalayas) and during the puja, she and her 4 children visit the plains (ie. Bengal) which is her paternal place.

Durga Puja celebrates the triumph of good over evil, the victory of Durga over the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura. Goddess Durga was created by Hindu Gods to defeat Mahishasura which is why she is always shown to have 10 hands, each of them holding something different, representing a unique power/strength bestowed upon Durga by the Hindu Gods.

There are distinct aspects of Durga Puja such as different sermons and rituals for each of the 4 days. Clearly, this is a Hindu religious event and certain rituals are to be strictly followed. However, what makes Durga Puja unique is that it is really an opportunity for the community to come together and spend time in gaiety and bonhomie, amongst good mouth-wateringly delicious food for all.

Says a local resident, “the importance of Durga Puja for me is twofold, one on social aspect and other within the spiritual pursuit. Socially, as I mentioned before, these events do get the community together. Organising and being part of the process in making the events happen is also a big teamwork. And that involvement makes everyone bond and stand with each other. We also get to know and meet people within the community during these events.”

The UK Hindu Cultural Centre (UKHCC) organises hindu festivals such as Saraswati Puja, Holi, Durga Puja, etc. They encourage all to come and celebrate the festivals with them because the festivals can not only be celebrated by Hindus but also by anyone. As narrated by a UKHCC member, “These events build the community, and in many ways the community becomes as a part of the extended family where people do stand with each other when and if need comes.”

Indeed, as can be seen in any Durga Puja venue in London or in the rest of the UK, a large number of non-Bengalis also participate with full enthusiasm and increasingly, the number of non-Hindu participants is steadily growing as all can see that Durga Puja, whilst originating from a Hindu religious/mythological basis, is really a community event where people from all walks of life, people from all religious beliefs can join in happiness and in peace, something that the world as we currently see, desperately needs.