By Indranil Halder
It was 4.30am in the morning. Anuron Mukerjee dropped me at Hobart airport for my flight back home in Sydney. While waiting for my Qantas flight, I followed Durga pujo celebrations Facebook updates from Shanghai( China), Jaganath Ghat in Kolkata( India), Al Habtoor Polo Club, Dubai ( UAE) and Maison de l’Inde, Cité Universitaire, Paris( France) and also feeling proud to have witnessed the historic first ever Tasmanian Durga pujo celebration with an idol.
Tasmania , Durga pujo & Bengalis:
Durga pujo is relatively unknown in the global space unlike Brazil’s Rio Carnival or Edinburg Festival. Still Durga pujo celebration enjoys more than 15 million visitors alone in the Indian city of Kolkata. This largest annual global Hindu celebration with world’s biggest art installation festival is any celebration to go by anywhere in the world. A true celebration of art for the mass, creativity of Bengalis and celebration of inclusiveness. Global Bengalis along with Bengalis across Indian cities celebrate Durga pujo with heritage ritual and style. Today, it is UNESCO approved and many Bengalis are trying their best to popularise Durga Pujo globally including Bengalis of Tasmania in the far Southern Hemisphere.
Tasmania is an island state of Australia which is know for its natural beauty. Located between Australian mainland and Antartica. An archipelago is a popular local destination for unwinding with hiking mountains, shucking oysters and sipping whiskey.
Durga pujo & RBCT:
In Tasmania, Royal Bengal Club of Tasmania( RBCT) is formed by Bengalis. Liyan Bhowmik has spearheaded the Durga pujo celebration with team of outgoing Bengali youths such as Joy Paul, Bijoy Saha, Akash Saha, Sejuti Pal, Taush Dutta, Avik Deb and others. In the Tasmanian city of Hobart, RBCT’s goal is to develop the first Durga temple and Bengali club house with library in Australia. Idol of Goddess Durga had also arrivecd just in time( from India via Port of Melbourne) for 2022 celebration.
RBCT’s Durga Pujo celebration is sponsored by SunCorp, Woolworths and Lifeline Movers. Attended by Anna Reynolds, Hobart Lord Mayor amongst others. I feel honoured to have sponsored RBCT’s Durga Pujo initiatives for last two years of Covid pandemic and for my invitation as guest to attend 2022 Durga pujo in Hobart and showcase Bengali culture.
My Durga Pujo Holiday in Hobart:
On 30/09/2022, I arrived in Hobart city with its colourful spring blooms and fascinating heritage buildings. It was time for me to explore the city’s heritage buildings. Heritage buildings such as Town Hall, Macquarie Manor, The Merchant House , The Prince of Wales Hotel, Tasmania Museum to name a few amazed me and I finished the day with a drink and oysters at luxurious Macq01 Hotel. Today, Hobart is also the city of opportunities for many including young Bengali international students(studying and working) , retired Bengali doctors from Singapore, Bengali skilled professionals and Goddess Durga.
Next morning defying the Antartica chill in the air with a warm cup of hot chocolate in the city’s The Poet’s Corner cafe, I travelled through magnificent Sandy Bay in public transport and reach Kingston Hotel, (walking distance from spectacular Kingston beach) and Durga pujo venue then after. It was an unreal feeling to enjoy a jam packed festive spirited cultural evening, witnessing the first public display of the newly arrived Durga idol in Tasmania and share sumptuous dinner with a crowd of 200 Bangladeshis, Indians Nepalese and AngloSaxon Aussies who call Tasmania home.
The second day of Durga pujo had eye popping elaborate rituals, prayers and numerous yummy dishes such as cauliflower curry, chutney, fried eggplant , lunchi ( bread fried in oil), khachuri and Indian sweets to name a few. They made me feel at home with ease only to experience a serious food coma and saved by an invitation for coffee by Anuron at the Robbie Brown’s cafe. Enjoying my coffee, I looked out into the pristine Kingston beach with few bathers, a sky high eucalyptus tree and plenty of sunshine to admire unspoiled Tasmanian beauty. Followed by, gin and tonic moment with Bijoy and Joy at The Salty Dog Hotel pub. While the locals enjoyed the Sunday afternoon with friends, family, pet dogs and locally crafted beers at the same pub. Next day, in my festive holiday mood, I enjoyed a trip to island’s spectacular Mount Wellington and New Norfolk suburb after enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and handmade cookies at a Blackmans Beach cafe with Liyan and Rana. Before I knew, my Tasmanian Durga pujo holidays was over.
Upon my return to Sydney , it was time to exchange Bijoya greetings and stories of my Tasmania Durga pujo holidays with Sydney siders. While connecting with Ankan and Ondirla Chowdhury of La Perouse NSW, I was fascinated when Ankan said, “ How amazing it will be to experience Durga Pujo in Hobart, walk through Tulip garden in Devenport next to the sea in Launceston and enjoy lunch in Bruny Island, all at once.” And I couldn’t agree more. To me, there is percentage of Bengalis across the globe with high spending power and them Tasmania is definitely the best kept Durga pujo holiday destination. In my next trip, it is definitely time for me to visit, celebrate and enjoy the vast Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area( one of the world’s last great wildernesses) and it’s heritage towns like Evandale, Ross and Oatlands in the Tasman paradise.