Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Durga Puja in Toronto: A Half-Century circumambulation

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When autumn comes we keep listening to the sound of covers in our hearts And counting the days from when Durga Puja will start

When autumn comes, we keep listening to the sound of covers in our hearts; And I am counting the days from when Durga Puja will start, when I will enjoy a heart-warming ceremony like Mahalaya’s ‘Mahishasuramardini’, five days in a row the priest’s solemn chanting will create a thrilling atmosphere, I will offer Anjali at the feet of my mother, my senses will be satisfied with various delicious prasads, I will dance with my waist swaying to the rhythm of the cover, a strange tingling in my body and mind. Bengali Hindus living in Toronto do not think that they are organizing pujas abroad. Because currently Durga Puja is organized in at least 10-12 Mandaps in Greater Toronto. Apart from Bengali Hindus, many non-Bengali Hindus also participate in the puja.

Moreover, people of other religions are also welcome in cultural events. They actively participated in them and turned the five days of Puja into a large human gathering. That is why Durgotsava is universal.

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Although there are many Durga Pujas in Toronto today, it started with just one mandapa – a puja ceremony. Fifty years ago in 1973, the first Durga Puja event was organized in a wire house on Western Road in Toronto by two organizations ‘Pravasi’ and ‘Bengali Cultural Association’. As such in Toronto

50th Anniversary of Durga Puja. It was started by some enthusiastic Bengali Hindus who came to Canada from West Bengal. A very small number of people from Bangladesh were in Canada at that time. It is known that Bangladeshis started coming to Canada in the 1980s. Initially, they were based in the city of Montreal. Around 1982-83, some Bangladeshis moved to Toronto from Montreal.

Meanwhile, due to the continuous increase in the number of Bengali Hindus in West Bengal, despite the above two Bengali cultural institutions, they felt the need to establish a religious institution. In continuation of that, Kalibari was established in Brampton in 1986 and Durga Puja also started in Kalibari in the same year. Later in 1998, Kalibari shifted to its present address i.e. Mississauga and since then Durga Puja and other pujas have been held at Kalibari.

Until 1993, the number of Bangladeshi Hindus in Toronto was negligible. So they had neither the manpower nor the money to organize a religious event like Durga Puja. But what is worth mentioning is their indomitable spirit. In 1995, when the manpower increased a bit, a few enthusiastic devotees took up the determination and organized the first Durga Puja at a Hindu temple near the Lansdowne subway. The name of that temple was Prartana Samaj. The first Durga Puja is a milestone event organized by Bangladeshi Hindus.

Since then Bangladeshi Hindus are also organizing Durga Puja in Toronto. Initially for a few years the prayer society rented the temple, then the legion hall or the auditorium of various public schools for this puja. Early pujas were organized on weekends – Saturday and Sunday. This practice started as devotees worked on most weekdays and auditoriums were not available for rent on weekdays. That is why it is called ‘pravase niyama nasti’.

In the early days, Bangladesh Canada Hindu Cultural Association, the first organization of Bangladeshi Hindus in Toronto, started organizing puja events. But as the number of Bangladeshi Hindus increased, two more religious institutions were created. The two names are Hindu Dharmashram and Toronto Durgabari. At present all three temples including Durga Puja and other Pujas and Parvans are being conducted according to Tithinakshatra. Naturally, the number of fans is more than ever. Devotees from distant cities come to Toronto during the puja. All three Bangladeshi-owned temples also publish special autumn collections every year.

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