Syncretic Culture in Bengal Brings Muslims and Hindus Together

By Nousheen Baba,


Recently an NGO named ‘Know Your Neighbour’ took the initiative of organising a small programme based on communal harmony and religious diversity on the holy eve of Ashtami in a Pandal. The first of its kind where one could witness the burqa wearing girls and skull capped men in numbers inside a Puja Pandal. There are Muslims who pandal hop but hardly in skull caps or burqa.

In fact, the mood of the whole state of West Bengal is steered by the “Dugga Dugga”, a Bengali phrase for invoking the blessings of the Goddess Durga, a gesture of love, not fear. The energy of love and blessings are not confined to the Hindu Bengali community but transcends to other community members as well, be it the Christians, the Sikh community or Muslim minority of the region. The religious leaders of the latter sharing the extreme ideological base perhaps do not want to be a part of the festival or anything is not in accordance to the tenets of Islam, they believe. They might also suggest their disciples that Pandal hopping or any sort participation is such events which involves idols and practices prevalent before the advent of Islam in the Saudi region are forbidden. But does/can the majority of the people belonging to the said minority section remain aloof or disengaged?

Durga Puja, for instance, is not just another festival of Hindu Bengali community, it rather is a cultural process embedded in the very soil of Bengal. History testifies that Bengal, since the inception of Islam in the Indian sub-continent has been offering a syncretistic pre-condition to Islam. It is because Sufism has been highly proactive in Bengal. One can refer to the work of Enamul Haque in this context. The Wahhabi ascendancy also penetrated off late in the region. One can also refer to the works of Asim Roy while diacussing the syncretistic attitude of Bengal. He rightly points out that a Bengali Muslim is first a Bengali, then a Muslim. It is because the cultural assimilation during the process of Islamization hardly affected the Bengaliness of the people of Bengal. They cannot remain disengaged even if they try because Durga Puja apart from being a festival lasting for days is more of a cultural heritage and culture belongs to all the people living and growing up in the soil. How and why are the two questions I shall be delving into with reference to the social space created for the minority during the festival of Durga Puja.

Karl Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, an Austrian biologist, the founder of the conceptual portion of the General Systems Theory in order to bring three major domains under one umbrella of organismic science. David Easton adopted the General System Theory of cybernetics to political science in 1950. The three major domains are philosophy, science and technology. Bertalanffy in his being a biologist intertwined the concepts rooted in classical discipline like philosophy in one hand and technology on the other. In an era where the dominance of empirical science cannot be separated from any kind of sound study, the spiritual side takes aback but the writer shall try to show to present a spiritual dimension of Durga Puja with the help of tasawwuf or Sufism. Or in other shall try to base the present discussion following the path of Bertalanffy and David Easton.

Keya Mandal in her “Social Customs and Rituals of Patuas of the District of Paschim Medinipur-A Study” explores the Patua Community of Pashcim Medinipur who live outside of the Hindu Hamlet and practice Islam and are famous for folk painting. They visit different parts of the Kolkata during Durga Puja and showcase their art of painting. During the Mughal rule Patua community is also known for its tendency for building up relationships between Hindus and Muslims of the time. But tragic it is to discover that the patuas regarded as untouchables by the Hindus and are termed as out of the fold of Islam because of the practices they follow. So, let us discuss those who are Muslims name as well as practice.

An article by Gurwinder Singh titled “I met the Muslim hair makers of Goddess Durga” illustrates how the Muslims of Parbatipur village near Howrah have been into the profession of making hair for the Durga idols displayed in the Pandals. The task of hair making is carried out by the Muslims of the said area since 1960. Tazeen Qureshi in the article name “The Muslim artisans behind Durga Puja in Cuttack” explains the hard work of the Muslim artisans that has been carried out by generations after generations in making the costumes for Durga.  Generations of Muslim families in Cuttack remain busy maiing the tableaux in Durga Puja pandal.

The above mentioned are only few empirical examples cited by different writers but there are many more examples that can be added. The ladies tailors of free school street or new market zone stitching salwar kameez, blouses etc. for the ladies would apologize for jot accepting any orders prior Puja because of their over loaded orders for the festivals . If you visit the tailors namely A to Z, Ganga, Jamuna, Middya, Mamoni, Mullick etc. they would apologize for not taking a single order due to the work load. The interesting part is that the workers in the tailoring shops are mostly Bengali Muslims. Durga Puja not only creates economic space for the Muslims with permanent job structures but it gives opportunities to the daily wage earners as well. The work load remains at its peak and man power is needed in such events. Where there is more creativity with extravagance there is the requirement of more man power and more man power does not discriminate between a Hindu and a Muslim, not in West Bengal at least.


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