• Bangiya Parishad: Thane's oldest Bengali socio-cultural organisation

    Snigdha hasanMumbaiSep 27, 2017, 13:10 IST

    On a humid Sunday afternoon, the makeshift office on the Durga Puja ground of Bangiya Parishad in Thane is buzzing with activity. With two days to go before the festivities begin, the organisers are busy fine-tuning the final preparations. In case rain gods decide to spring a surprise, stalls have been hoisted onto a raised platform, even as workers are chiselling away sleek bamboo stems to add to the massive facade of the pandal. But amidst the hullabaloo, it's hard to miss the eager anticipation that fills the air.

    The idol has been crafted by Amit Pal, who is the go-to artist for Durga idols in the city. Pics/Sameer Markande
    The idol has been crafted by Amit Pal, who is the go-to artist for Durga idols in the city. Pics/Sameer Markande

    "The no-dinner-at-home nights are here. The men in the community have been informed in advance," laughs Alok Banerjee, secretary of Bangiya Parishad's Puja committee. He is not only referring to the lavish bhog that thousands walking through the pandal gates are treated to, but also to the more intimate tradition of Anandamela, where the women members of the community prepare a pot luck of sorts on the Panchami evening — the day before the main celebrations kick off.

    Bangiya Parishad is the oldest Bengali socio-cultural organisation in Thane and has played a pivotal role in helping the community stay in touch with its roots in an otherwise Maharashtrian stronghold. "Most Bengalis in Thane are working professionals. Given the sky-high real estate prices in Mumbai, Thane became the preferred choice of residence. The community is very adaptive and likes to stay low-key," shares the organisation's president, Prakash Guha, adding, "For many years, Bangiya Parishad was the only such organisation in Thane. Most other cultural groups you see here today were a part of the parishad at some point."

    Rural folk-style paintings have been used in the pandal.
    Rural folk-style paintings have been used in the pandal.

    Milestone celebrations
    Entering its 55th year, the festivities have a special fervour. "This year, the Durga Puja mandap will don the theme of Pally Sanskriti or the culture of rural Bengal," informs Banerjee, as we enter the pandal lined with paintings depicting paddy fields, palm trees and thatched cottages, mounted on aesthetic bamboo frames. The paintings, created by an artist brought in from Kolkata, acquire a different style closer to the devi's idol, reminiscent of artist Jamini Roy's iconic folk-tradition works.

    The bamboo facade of the pandal, created by artists brought in from West Bengal rises up to nearly 100 feet|
    The bamboo facade of the pandal, created by artists brought in from West Bengal rises up to nearly 100 feet

    "While the physical work begins only a month before the puja, the planning and brainstorming starts four months ahead of the festivities," says AP Lala, pandal and decoration head.

    All five days are packed with cultural performances, ranging from an evening of Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul geeti (compositions by legendary poet, writer and musician Nazrul Islam), a baul geet performance (a rural musical tradition with equal participation by Vaishnav Hindus and Sufi Muslims), as well as cultural shows by members of the organisation.

    (From left) Organisers Sanjay Saha, KP Gain, Pradip Kundu, Alok Banerjee, Prakash Guha and AP Lala
    (From left) Organisers Sanjay Saha, KP Gain, Pradip Kundu, Alok Banerjee, Prakash Guha and AP Lala

    Beyond the puja
    This isn't the only time of the year that brings the community together. Poila Boishakh or the Bengali New Year, Rabindra Jayanti and Diwali are other occasions celebrated with gusto, each festivity tying in a way to acquaint young members of the community with their culture. No Rabindra Jayanti, for instance, is complete without reciting Tagore's poems and one-act plays, shares Banerjee.

    The organisation also engages in philanthropic activities regularly. Visits to Yeoor village in the Thane district are organised from time to time to provide supplies to the tribal school. The office of Bangiya Parishad, which is a registered trust, doubles up as residence for cancer patients who come to the city for treatment.
    Who better to understand the value of a place called home than a community that moved 2,000 km west to make a new home?

    On Till: September 30
    At: Highland Garden (Crest), Opposite Highland Park, Balkum Dhokali Link Road, Dhokali, Thane West.

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