While the country gears up for Navratri, it is the onset of Durga Puja that unanimously unleashes the festive spirit amongst Bengalis, who look forward to the festival the way most of us would fervently wait for our birthdays, the new year or other regional festivities.
Amongst various traditions and customs practised on and before Durga Puja, one that has stood the test of time is the Dhunuchi Naach or dancing with the censer.
The dhunuchi naach has not only become invariably synonymous with the festival but also an intrinsic part of the state’s cultural identity. In fact, it is highly unlikely that non-Bengalis would not know about this iconic ritual—while some of us have first-hand visual experience, many are familiar with it due to multiple references in Bollywood films.
It is during Ashtami, or the eighth day of Navratri, when frenzied dancers, both men and women pick up the earthen dhunuchi that has been layered with slow-burning coconut, over which incense is sprinkled, and perform the dance in honour of their most revered female deity, Goddess Durga,
If you have ever watched the dance, you know that the sight is nothing less than a divine spectacle, and the aromatic white fumes and feverish ‘dhak’ rolls only add a surrealist quality to the dance ritual.
As time has passed, so has the ritual, which has now evolved to a competitive stage. Almost every Durga Puja pandal across the state holds competitions, where people get so spirited that some even perform with not one or two but three dhunuchis! These competitions are especially popular with youngsters, who participate in with much energy and vigour.
Even as these competitions have become widespread, the age-old ritual continues to remain close to the hearts of every single Bengali, especially for the message it conveys—bringing people closer and keeping the festive spirit that Durga puja has come to signify, alive.
So, this Durga Puja, if you happen to visit any of the pandals in your locality, make sure you don’t miss this age-old dance ritual!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)