Thursday, November 7, 2013

Durga Puja in Greater Tokyo Area

In the previous post I wrote that I will write about my hubby’s and my visit to Tottori Sand Dunes in this post. But today I decided to first write about Durga Puja celebrations that we attended in Greater Tokyo Area on October 12th. I will get back to the post about Tottori Sand Dunes next time.

Durga Puja means worship of Durga. It is an important socio-cultural annual religious festival that is observed by Hindus by worshipping Goddess Durga and celebrating her victory over the mythological evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. This victory epitomizes the victory of good over evil. Goddess Durga is depicted as a warrior goddess riding a lion and carrying different weapons in her ten arms. Her appearance is interpreted as an embodiment of feminine power in Indian culture. In addition, according to the mythological beliefs, Durga Puja commemorates the annual visit of Goddess Durga with her children to her parents' home, leaving finally on Dashami (tenth day) to be reunited with her consort Shiva. So during the festival, prayers are offered to Goddess Durga as well as her consort and children. Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya are the four children of Durga. Lakshmi and Saraswati are the Goddesses, and Ganesha and Kartikeya are the Gods in Hindu religion.

Durga Puja is observed widely across India, but it is most popular in the state of West Bengal. Durga Puja is an autumn festival and the dates for the celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu calendar. So every year the festival dates are slightly different, but often fall from mid-September to mid-October. The rituals and celebrations start with Mahalaya and continue for ten days. The last four days called Saptami (seventh day), Ashtami (eighth day), Navami (ninth day), and Dashami (tenth day) are celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur. Apart from being a religious festival, it is also an occasion for reunion with friends and relatives, and a celebration of traditional culture and customs.

Durga Puja has been celebrated in Bengal since the 16th century, and has evolved with the passage of time. During the 18th century, the worship of Goddess Durga became popular among the land aristocrats of Bengal who initiated elaborate Puja at their residences. Over the years, the festival took the form of collective celebration. First such collective form of celebration took place in Guptipara in 1790 and in Kolkata in 1832. Gradually by 1910, this collective form of celebrating Durga Puja evolved into community celebration known as ‘Sarbajanin Durga Puja’, and first such truly community Puja took place at Bagbazar in Kolkata. Since then, this tradition of community Durga Puja has continued and led to the growth of Bengali culture. Slowly, over time, such mass festivities have spread not only in India but throughout the world. Nowadays, however, Puja festivities go far beyond religion. Modernized aspects of entertainment and technology have been integrated into the festivities. Durga Puja committees organize various fun filled activities, cultural programs that include music and dancing, and other exciting entertainment. In addition, mouthwatering cuisines and sweets are now an integral part of this celebration.

Idols of Goddess Durga and her children are the primary requirements of Durga Puja celebrations. Magnificent clay idols of Goddess Durga and her four children are crafted and painted with beautiful colors. Generally there are two kinds of statues; one is ‘Ekchala’ kind where all the idols are mounted on a single frame, and the other one is separate idols. Artisans start making such clay idols months before the actual festival. The diligent and methodical work by the artisans creates the most exquisite pieces of artistry.

Recently I came to know that most of the gods and goddesses of Hindu religion have an equivalent deity in Japanese Buddhism. Durga is known as Juntei Kannon Bosatsu (check here and here too), Shiva is Daikokuten, Lakshmi is Kichijoten, Saraswati is Benzaiten, Ganesha is Kangiten, and Kartikeya is Idaten. Although these Hindu deities have been borrowed and adopted into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon, their significance is not necessarily literal. I found all this information rather interesting.

Durga Puja is held by at least two Bengali associations in Greater Tokyo Area. The name of one of the associations is ‘Bengali Association of Tokyo, Japan’ (BATJ). This association has been holding Durga Puja celebrations since the past 24 years. The other association is ‘Kolkata Cultural Society Japan’, which was established in 2007 and has been holding the Puja celebrations since then. Hubby and I attended the Puja celebrations held by BATJ. This year the celebrations were held at Kawasaki Shimin Plaza in Kawasaki City of Kanagawa prefecture on October 12th. Most of the Puja celebrations in India usually starts on the day of Sasthi (sixth day) when rituals to welcome the idols of the deities to Puja-pandals are carried out, and ends on Dashami (tenth) day with idol immersion into the nearby rivers. However, here in Japan, the celebrations are held only for one day, usually on the weekend during/after the actual Durga Puja festival days. This is probably because religion is separated from state, and there are no religion based holidays in Japan since 1947. So people cannot generally take 3-4 days religion based leave of absence from their work places during the actual Puja days. Therefore the rituals of all the days of Puja are combined into one, and celebrated on a weekend. This year, BATJ held the Puja celebrations on Saturday October 12th, which was the day of Ashtami (eighth day). Another point to be noted is that after the Puja celebrations end, the clay idols are not immersed in river as it is prohibited in Japan. So BATJ uses the same idols for the Puja celebrations for several years. However, this year new idols of Goddess Durga and her children were purchased from India and used for the celebrations. No idea though what happened to the old idols.

Early on the morning of October 12th, hubby and I took a flight from Akita Airport and after about one hour of air travel we reached Haneda Airport in Tokyo. After another 1.5 hours of train ride and taxi ride, we reached Kawasaki Shimin Plaza at about 11.45 am. Inside the plaza, we walked up to a theater hall named Furusato Gekijo. At the entrance area of the theater hall, we paid a contribution of 12000 Yen and entered inside the hall where Durga Puja celebration was carried out. The hall is medium sized, has a stage for musical and theatrical performances, and has a seating arrangement for 500 people. We saw that the idols of Goddess Durga and her children were set up on one corner of the stage. We climbed up on the stage and saw the idols up close. All the idols were mounted on a single frame, which is the ‘Ekchala’ kind. The beautifully handcrafted idols were grand and stunning. In fact, everything from the minute details of the idols to the larger decorations around it looked superb. I was really overjoyed seeing such absolutely beautiful idols. And hubby saw such idols for the first time. We took several photos of the idols from various positions and angles for the sake of memory.
Inside Kawasaki Shimin Plaza building

Idols of Goddess Durga and her children set up on the left corner of the stage inside Furusato Gekijo Hall

Front view of the idols of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Durga, Saraswati, and Kartikeya (left to right in the photo) mounted on a single frame along with the statues of lion and Mahishasura located in front of Durga

Enlarged view of the idols as viewed from the front

The idols as viewed from the front but slightly right side

Goddess Durga carrying different weapons in her ten arms looks so powerful. Her children are also beautifully sculpted.

Goddesses Lakshmi, Durga, and Saraswati (left to right)

The facial expressions of Goddess Durga are pleasant and transmit a sense of power and confidence

I am standing next to the idols

Hubby standing next to the idols

Hubby and I standing next to the idols

We were a bit late in reaching the Durga Puja venue, and so we missed seeing the priest chant Mantras and perform several other rituals for offering prayers to Goddess Durga and her children. However, we were just in time for Pushpanjali to begin. Pushpanjali is a type of ritual in which people offer flower worship to all the idols. During Pushpanjali, the people gather together in front of the idols, the priest hands over flowers to all, and then everyone repeats the Mantras that are told by the priest. Once the Mantras are pronounced, the flowers are thrown at the feet of the idols. This is done three times continuously. Afterwards, everyone prays silently for a minute or two. I was very happy to offer Pushpanjali and prayers to the goddesses and the gods. Here, after the Pushpanjali, instead of throwing the flowers at the feet of the idols, they were collected back by a person helping the priest. This is essential to prevent any possible damage to the idols which will be used for the Puja celebrations for several more years.
This small stage was located in front of the idols of Goddess Durga and her children. The priest sat on this stage and offered prayers to Goddess Durga.

Many people and I are offering Pushpanjali to Goddess Durga and her children

I am offering flowers and praying to Goddess Durga

All are praying silently just after the ritual of Pushpanjali

At about 1 pm, lunch was served in another room of the building. All at once, people rushed to that room. I guess everyone was rather hungry. The room was very crowded and so we waited for another 30 minutes to have lunch. Vegetarian lunch was served in disposable plastic Bento boxes. I have no idea what many of the items were as it was the first time I ate fasting food of Bengali people. This is because, although I have ancestral roots in West Bengal, I have never lived there. The food tasted good but the portions were too small. So after finishing our lunch, we went to a restaurant located within the building itself, and had Ramen noodles.
People having lunch

My lunch in Bento box

Hubby having lunch

I finished my lunch but am still hungry

Hubby having Ramen noodles

Afterwards we returned back to Furusato Gekijo Hall. Next event of the day was the ‘cultural program’, which consisted of live performances of classical and modern Indian music, drama, and dance. Cultural program started at about 2.30 pm. I was really looking forward to this event. The program began with ‘Agamani’ or an invocation of Goddess Durga through a song and a dance. Next, there was a short play in Bengali language. It was nice to see children and adults perform the drama in a nice funny way.
Waiting for the cultural program to begin

Agamani song

Agamani dance

Another pose of the dance

A short play

Next, there was ‘Teen Talent’ program in which several teenagers sang Indian classical and Bollywood songs, played musical instruments, and danced to a Bollywood song. The play of musical instruments by two teenagers was so enthralling. It was an extraordinary fusion of Koto and piano. Another teenager danced wonderfully to an old Bollywood song. She danced with mesmerizing moves and it was a splendid performance.
A teenage girl (right) singing a classical song

Fusion of Koto and piano

Three teenagers singing a Bollywood song

A girl dancing to a Bollywood song

Next, there was a program named ‘Rhythms of India’. In this program we got a glimpse of the rich and vibrant nature of Indian dances and also got a feel of the different genres of Indian music. There were many exquisite dance performances. A wonderful Bharatnatyam dance performance by kids, an energetic Garba dance performance by women in colorful vibrant costume, a Bengali folk dance performance by kids, and an amazing Bhangra dance performance by men left the audience wowed and spellbound. In the music section, a beautiful Ghazal was wonderfully rendered by a young female artist. In addition, there were two excellent group performances of a Bengali patriotic song and a Bhajan. We enjoyed this program very much.
Bharatnatyam dance performance by kids

The kids look so cute in Bharatnatyam costume

Ghazal rendered by a female artist

Garba dance performance by women

Colorful costume of the women performing Garba

Group performance of a Bengali patriotic song

Bengali folk dance performance by kids

Bhangra dance performance by men

The men looked so handsome in Bhangra dance costume

Group performance of a Bhajan song

Afterwards, there was an hour of modern Indian songs sung by a group of music lovers in Tokyo named ‘The Weekenders’. While the songs were good (mostly Hindi and Bengali songs), the accompanying music was sometimes too loud and screechy. Finally, there was Chhau Dance performance by Seraikella Chhau dancers visiting from India. The technical and the artistic skills of the dancers were superb.
A modern Indian song rendered by ‘The Weekenders’

Chhau Dance performance by Seraikella Chhau dancers

Another pose of Chhau Dance

The cultural program continued for 4.25 hours, and ended at about 6.45 pm. We loved the program very much. Soon afterwards, everyone climbed up on the stage and sat down in front of the idols of Goddess Durga and her children. Then the priest performed evening Puja and Aarti. It was nice to see the priest chant enchanting Mantras. Afterwards, we also offered our prayers and got the divine blessings of the goddesses and gods. Since Durga Puja celebrations are usually held only for one day in Greater Tokyo Area, the rituals of all other days of Puja are combined into one, and performed on that one day. Therefore, the priest performed Dashami (tenth) day ritual named Bisarjan or the ‘immersion ceremony’ of the idols. Usually the idols are immersed in a river or some water-body, and afterwards Shanti Jal or ‘peace water’ is collected from the place of immersion and sprinkled on the assembled devotees as blessings from Goddess Durga. Shanti Jal actually marks the culmination of the Puja celebrations. Since the idols here were not actually immersed in water, the priest sprinkled some holy water collected from River Ganges on all of us.
The priest performing evening Puja

Many devotees sitting in front of the idols of Goddess Durga and her children

The priest sprinkling Shanti Jal on all of us

We really loved and enjoyed the Durga Puja celebrations held at Kawasaki Shimin Plaza in Kawasaki City. We left the place at about 8 pm, and after 2 hours of train ride reached a hotel in Yashio City of Saitama prefecture, where we stayed for the night. During the train ride I realized that this year I attended the Durga Puja celebrations after 25 years, the last being in October 1988 at Pune City in India. Somehow all these years, I was either busy with my work or there were no Puja celebrations nearby wherever I stayed. That is probably the reason why I was so much excited about the Puja celebrations this year.
I (center) am standing with my friends in front of the idol of Goddess Durga in Pune in 1988

The next day, that is October 13th, was our eighth marriage anniversary. We did not plan anything special and just had a relaxed day in Tokyo area. We went to Akihabara City in the morning. Akihabara is located about 16 kilometers south of Yashio (where we stayed overnight), and it took us 17 minutes of train ride to reach Akihabara. At Akihabara station, we saw a stall named ‘Akita Bussan Fair’ that sold various products related to Akita prefecture. It was a bit funny because we went all the way from Akita to Tokyo, and there we were welcomed by the products of Akita! Anyway, at Akihabara we went to Yodobashi-Akiba electronics shop and purchased a new notebook computer. Next, we took a train and went to Shinagawa City, where we saw an English romantic comedy drama movie named ‘Hope Springs’ at Shinagawa Prince Cinema Theater. I loved the movie but hubby slept through most of the movie. At about 4 pm, we went to a nearby restaurant and had Carbonara and dessert. It was the best Carbonara I have ever had. Afterwards we took a train and went to Haneda Airport. At 8.20 pm, we took a flight back to Akita, and finally returned home at about 10.45 pm. We really enjoyed our two days in Tokyo area.
A stall named ‘Akita Bussan Fair’ at Akihabara station

Yodobashi-Akiba electronics shop

Our new notebook computer

I am standing inside Shinagawa Prince Cinema Theater

Ticket counters at the theater

Corridor leading to various rooms in the theater


Hubby having Carbonara


Mount Fuji as viewed from the train on our way to Haneda Airport

Hubby tired and waiting at Haneda Airport for the return flight to Akita

As promised in the previous post, I will write about our trip to Tottori Sand Dunes in the next post.


Paresh Kale said...

Must be a treat to Japnese who love the photography and Indian culture ! Nice and zeastful community u have there !

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks you for your comment Paresh Kale. There are many Japanese people who like Indian culture. And yeah, there is a strong Indian community in Tokyo area, though where I live there are hardly any foreigners. So I felt good to meet Indians after a long time.

Anil Gupta said...

Nice pictures and writeup. I am fan of your writings and read your blog post regularly. If memory serves me right, I think it is the first time you wrote about attending an Indian event or activity in Japan.

It seems like you were in Tokyo area about the same time I was in Tokyo and Sendai. Wish I had known about the event and may have ran in to you.

Ashish said...

Wonderful narration! I remember the days of Puja some 30-40 years back in Devlali, Shillong & Pune.

Keep writing.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment Anil Gupta. And thank you very much for reading my blog regularly.
Yes, you are right. I have not written much about Indian events here in Japan. This is because, I started this blog when I moved to Akita prefecture. Akita is a remote area, and hardly has any foreigners. In fact, I knew of only one other Indian guy who lived here two years ago and has already moved from here. So it is difficult to have any Indian events without any Indians around. Just joking :) Also, every time going half way across Japan to attend Indian events is not that feasible...But I was really very happy to attend an Indian event after a very long time....

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Ashish Dada for your comment...You did not attend the Durga Puja in Pune in 1988 as Babu was already transferred to Delhi. Only Ma and I attended that one... Yes, I also remember very fondly the Pujas held in Devlali, Shillong, and Pune. Those were really good, small but 'Apna Puja'... I heard that nowadays Pandal-hopping is the boom. While we can see many Puja Pandals that way, they are very impersonal...