Sindur Khela: Part 1

The first time they had taken part in Pujo together, Diana had been perplexed by a thorough change in Soma’s demeanour during the festivities. The usually calm and reticent woman had transformed into a boisterous adolescent, trying everything and stopping at nothing.

“And just like that it’s Dashami [2] already.” sighed Soma while wearing her ear-rings and appraising herself in front of the mirror. Diana sat on the edge of their bed, already dressed, and offered an empathetic smile.

“Well, Aashchhe bochor, abaar khabey! [3] Isn’t that what your people say?” remarked Diana with her best Bengali pronunciation, attempting to provide some assurance and consolation to Soma.

“It’s hobey, not khabey[4],” laughedSoma, as she enunciated the words properly to mark their difference in pronunciation. “Though your version rings true as well.”

“Oh! My bad. They sound so identical.” exclaimed Diana pretending to be embarrassed, knowing full well the distinction between the two verbs, having been with this Bengali [5] for over a decade. She smiled, contented because her deliberate goof-up had cheered up Soma.

They had been over this numerous times over the past years, this roller-coaster ride of intense emotions during Durga Pujo. The festive build-up of exultation and celebration which commenced on Mahalaya [6], and reached an ecstatic fever pitch on Ashtami [7]. Andafter Navami’s [8] evening aroti [9],it was followed by a sharp, doleful realisation of impending Dashami [10]. Then there was Dashami morning, filled with an evanescent sense of denial and dejection.

The first time they had taken part in Pujo together, Diana had been perplexed by a thorough change in Soma’s demeanour during the festivities. The usually calm and reticent woman had transformed into a boisterous adolescent, trying everything and stopping at nothing. Diana had tried hard to maintain a nonplussed expression at Soma’s uncharacteristic antics, but the occasional awed, wide-eyed stare had gotten the better of her.

Though Diana had known Soma better than most others could claim, she had to gradually come to terms with the fact, that there was another side to Soma’s persona, unbeknownst to her, which only made an appearance during Pujo each year. Then again, Diana figured, long-term relationships were filled with all kinds of revelations, and this was of a nicer variety.

During their first Pujo, poor, bewildered Diana had chosen a peculiar moment to elicit an explanation behind Soma’s overnight metamorphosis. She had been holding her tongue to the best of her abilities. Nonetheless, when she observed Soma rambunctiously coursing through her third plate of ill-advised, rich food for the day, with her fingers and lips covered in gravy, while standing near yet another Pujo food stall; Diana simply couldn’t keep quiet anymore. She was worried about Soma, and wanted to help out if something was bothering her. Diana thought that a good, open conversation might be just what Soma needed; the lack of which may have prompted her to seek solace in biryani [11], fish fry [12] and then kosha mangsho [13].

Diana did not wish to offend Soma. On the other hand, she did not understand how best to broach the subject. Finally, she took a deep breath and politely gestured towards Soma and her half-eaten plate, and asked, “What is all this?” with hesitant curiosity.

Soma slowly looked up from her plate, noticed clueless Diana, and grinned through gravy stained lips. “It’s Pujo!”, Soma stated in a casual tone, like it was the most obvious thing in the world, after chomping and gulping down another mouthful of delicious mangsho and ruti [14].

“Right. It’s Pujo.”, reiterated Diana, who hoped that repeating Soma’s answer might bring her some clarity. It did not. She didn’t press her any further. If Soma wanted to eat curry and make merry, she wouldn’t stop her. Diana took note of the situation and thought it best to stop by the pharmacy on their way home, and stock up on some medicines for indigestion. They would certainly need those. Since Soma didn’t mix well with food laden with spices and oil, and had miraculously forgotten that, Diana would have to step in.

The next morning, Soma had been incredibly grateful for Diana’s medical intervention and had sheepishly taken the medicines from her. This became a part of their Pujo tradition. Soma would stock her plate with various food items and Diana would stock her bag with medicines and water. She didn’t complain or fuss because- “It’s Pujo!” and evidently all was fair in love, war and Pujo.

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This Dashami, Soma and Diana were dressed in similar, white, Kasavu [15] sarees, embellished with a gold and deep red border. Diana’s mother had especially brought them from Kerala on her last trip. She found them most fitting to be worn on Dashami, when Bengali women wore laal paad [16] sarees. Soma was delighted at the idea and found it rather endearing. The couple rarely wore similar outfits as both had their own sartorial likes and dislikes. Today was different, and it felt good for a change.

Moreover, Diana had gifted Soma some delightful handloom silk cotton sarees for Pujo. Soma in turn had bought her colourful cotton fabrics and had gotten them tailored into gorgeous kurtas. Her mother had presented Diana with a splendid blue silk saree, which Diana had worn on Ashtami, accompanied by Soma in a magnificent kantha [17] embroidered kurta.

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It was almost nine o’clock now. “Hurry up! We don’t want to stand in long queues at the pandal.” pleaded Diana standing at the door. “We need to get back before lunch.”

“Just a minute.” Soma responded while arranging some mishti [18] and a small container of sindur [19] on a steel plate.

“Done. Let’s go!”


Standing in queues had become commonplace for Diana once she began attending Durga Pujo with Soma. She had learnt to wait in disorganised queues to catch a glimpse of the Goddess and offer their prayers. She had faced the jostling of devotees during Pushpanjali [20] and the evening aroti. And of course, earned a place in the long queues for proshad [21] and bhog [22].

Much to Soma’s amusement, Diana had developed a taste for the delicious preparations served as bhog and the assortment of fruits, dry fruits and mishti served as proshad. This resulted in less grumbling and more eager anticipation on Diana’s part while waiting in queues. Moreover, being taller than Soma, she found it easier to get a glimpse of the Goddess amidst the crowd. It also helped her get the flowers and bael [23] leaves first from the baskets passed around for Pushpanjali, and she utilised the opportunity to collect Soma’s share too, handing them over with chivalry to the shorter woman.

For Pushpanjali, Diana wasn’t earnest to get the complicated Sanskrit mantras [24] right. She didn’t comprehend all the words but she understood the essence. Soma had given her a synopsis of everything that the mantras and prayers conveyed. Diana understood that by participating in Pushpanjali, the devotees humbly submitted themselves to the care of a higher power. Diana was familiar with that feeling. It’s what her parents had taught her to do at church.

While everyone else tried their best to repeat after the priest, Diana stood next to Soma with her eyes closed and head upright, carefully holding the flowers between her palms, while confidently praying in Malayalam [24]. Since her prayers were concise, she always managed to get done before the others and then spent the rest of the time, looking around, gazing at the Goddess, the mandap [25], the priest, other devotees, or at Soma who looked serene and happy when she prayed.       


[1] Sindur Khela – A Bengali festive ritual that takes place on the day of Dashami during Durga Pujo. Traditionally, married Bengali women apply vermillion on each other to commemorate the departure of Goddess Durga from her home on earth, and return to her celestial abode on Mount Kailash.

[2] Dashami – The tenth day of Navratri and the final day of Durga Pujo, celebrating the triumph of goodness over the forces of evil

[3] Aashchhe Bochor, Abaar Hobey! – An oft repeated slogan during Durga Pujo, especially as it nears its end, in order to bring a sense of assurance to the devotees. The slogan means that in the swiftly approaching year, Pujo shall be celebrated once again.

[4] Khabey – A Bengali verb to denote the act of eating.

[5] Bengali – A person who traces their origin from Bengal.

[6] Mahalaya – The first day following the end of Pitri Paksh or the month of Shraddha, during which prayers and oblations are offered to ancestors. It signals the auspicious beginning of Navratri. Traditionally, at dawn Bengalis listen to the recording of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s rendition of the Chandi Paath, delineating the origin of Goddess Durga and her victory over Mahishasura. 

[7]  Ashtami – The eighth day of Navratri, and the most important day of Durga Puja as Shondhi Pujo takes place on this day. Shondhi Pujo facilitates the transition from Ashtami to Navami.

[8]Navami – The ninth day of Navratri.  

[9] Aroti – A ritual of worship wherein the Gods and Goddesses are offered light, water, air, fragrance and clothing, to the rhythmic beats of the Dhaak and Kashor Ghonta. 

[10] Dashami – The tenth and concluding day of Navratri and Durga Pujo, celebrated as Vijay Dashami.  

[11] Biryani – A delicacy consisting of aromatic rice cooked with meat in a closed pot with a selection of spices.

[12] Fish fry Bhetki fish which is deep fried in batter to make crisp, flat cutlets.

[13] Kosha mangsho ­– A mutton dish with tender meat and thick, flavourful gravy.

[14] Ruti – Roti or flat-bread

[15] Kasavu – The traditional variety of clothing in Kerala, white in colour with a gold border.

[16] Laal Paad – The traditional Bengali saree with a red border worn on Dashami. Laal Paad sarees may have a white, pale yellow or cream base.    

[17] Kantha – A specialised form of Bengal handloom featuring colourful embroidery patterns.

[18]  Mishti – The Bengali term used for sweets. 

[19] Sindur – Vermillion 

[20] Pushpanjali – A ritual of worship, wherein the offerings of flowers and bael leaves are made to Goddess Durga and her Children by the devotees as they repeat Sanskrit mantras after the priest.

[21] Proshad – Sanctified cut fruits, dry fruits and mishti given to devotees after Pushpanjali.

[22] Bhog – Sanctified food served to the devotees at lunch time on the days of Saptami, Ashtami and Navami.

[23] Bael – Wood apple

[24] Mantras – chants and prayers

[25] Malayalam – The language spoken by people in and from Kerala.

[26]  Mandap – The designated area wherein the idols are kept and worship rituals are performed by the priests.

About the author

IB

IB is an introvert and an HSP. Her life experiences seldom find authentic representation in popular culture. Therefore, she has taken it upon herself to write and do the needful. She feels most Rainbow People deserve an honorary doctorate for the brave, painstaking research they undertake to comprehend themselves in a hostile, patriarchal, heteronormative world.