book review: celebrate, durga puja with me!
Recently, I got to check out a book called “Celebrate Durga Puja with Me!” by author and mother, Shoumi Sen. I’m always looking for children’s’ books that speak to the culture and heritage of India. Even though it’s a fall festival, I thought it would be good to share because the main message of the book is overcoming evil and just being good and positive. Also, since the Bengali New Year is celebrated this time of year and our author hails from that part of India…well, it just made sense!
Shoumi’s story of becoming an author started with a series of poems that she wrote for her daughter called ‘From The Toddler Diaries’. This collection, in its stapled makeshift binding, was the center of several bedtime story sessions and play dates with friends. Inspired by this interest amongst kids and encouraged by their parents, she decided to publish the collection.
In particular, ‘Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!’ started as a thought while Shoumi and her family were on vacation in Australia. While in Brisbane, right around the time of Durga Puja, she was visiting with an old childhood friend from Mumbai. Absolutely thrilled to find that the local Bengali Association would be celebrating Durga Puja, her family enjoyed the festivities of the “weekend puja” (in many Durga Puja celebrations outside India, five days of celebrations are often compressed to the weekend). She reminisced with her friend about their childhood when the whole city would come alive and realized that as long as she lived outside India, her daughter may never get to experience Indian festivals the way she did. She decided then that she wanted to recreate the magic of this festival for her daughter in verse. And the result, well her daughter absolutely loved what she wrote. In Shoumi’s words, “Memories of celebrations from my childhood form the essence of my poems – the frenzied ‘dhunuchi’ dance during Durga Puja, the rhythmic chants of the oarsmen during Onam or the expression on a friend’s face as you snuck up to smear ‘abeer’ during Holi!”
So what exactly is the meaning behind Durga Puja? Here are some facts…
- Celebrates the victory of good over evil – specifically, the Goddess Durga’s epic victory over the demon Mahisasura
- The same festival is celebrated as ‘Navratri’ in many parts of India
- Primarily celebrated in the eastern part of India over five days of with great fanfare and festivities
- Preparations start weeks in advance – think Christmas style shopping for clothes and gifts for everyone
- Celebrated on a grand scale – people look forward to the food, music, theatrical performances and celebrating with friends and relatives. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor – everyone gathers together, dressed in their finest attire to celebrate this festival together.
- On the last day, we bid adieu to Goddess Durga with Bisorjon (immersion of her idol in water) and wait eagerly for next Fall for Durga Puja once again!
And what’s “Celebrate Durga Puja with Me!” about…
- It’s a part of the series ‘From The Toddler Diaries’ and celebrates Durga Puja as experienced by 3 year old Riya
- Universal to Durga Puja celebrations across several Indian communities and celebrates the spectrum of Indian festivals as experienced by a toddler
- Easy to read, simple and enthusiastically endorsed by 3-8 year olds and parents alike
- Full of poetry and colorful…designed to drape parents and children in vivid hues of India’s cultural fabric
- Sends home a larger meaning than just the itself that kids will want to read no matter the time of year
And finally a little about the Bengali New Year itself…
- Celebrated in mid-April and is known as Poila Boisakh ((Bengali poila = first, Boisakh = the first month of the Bengali Calendar), 15th April, 2016,
- People greet each other by saying Shubho Noboborsho which is literally “Happy New Year”.
- Celebrated in West Bengal, in Bangladesh and by Bengalis all over the world with a lot of excitement as they ring in the new year and bid adieu to the old.
- The day is marked with cultural programs, music and dance performances. People wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives and prepare special Bengali delicacies to mark the occasion. Many businesses start their ledger on this day.
- The new year is often ushered in with songs by Rabindranath Tagore, namely ‘Esho He Boishak, Esho Esho’ (Come Baisakh, Come O Come).
Check out the book on Amazon, here!!
About the author:
Shoumi Sen is a Strategy, Sales and Marketing professional at a leading Energy Management company. She grew up in Mumbai and Dubai and studied Engineering at BITS, Pilani and the University of Maryland, College Park. She loves to travel, has lived and worked in many countries, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and daughter.