By: Shoubhik Bose
BOSTON: Durga Puja has always been close to my heart as it is with Bengalis all over the globe. This was the first time that I have been away from India on Durga Puja. My wife and I were therefore desperate to locate a venue where we would be able to offer puja to the Goddess.
Thankfully, Google helped us locate Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Boston on 58, Deerfield Street. It is a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission established by Swami Vivekananda.
The Boston branch was started in 1909 after the ones in New York (1894) and San Francisco (1900).It was Swami Paramananda, Swami Vivekananda’s disciple who started the Boston branch in 1909. It was shifted to its present location in 1941.
We reached 20 minutes prior to the scheduled 10.30 am for ” Ashtami Puja”. The instructions at the door of the colonial-era building housing the Vedanta center said that doors would be open to public 15 minutes prior to events. For everything else, there needs to be a prior appointment. I was amused at the Bostonian twist to visiting a place of worship.
Shortly after that, the door was unbolted from inside and the small group awaiting entry was let in. We were asked to leave our coats at the coat hanger stationed near the stairs. A caucasian American showed us the humble premises which included a couple of seminar rooms and the puja rooms, including the main puja room in which the Durga puja event was to commence shortly.
In one of the rooms, chairs resembling those at a university lecture room were laid out with a projector displaying the preparations taking place in another seminar room.
Volunteers escorted us to the ‘main’ puja room which at first glance looked like a chapel-turned-temple. On the wooden pedestal were framed photographs of Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada devi and Swami Vivekananda.In front of these, there was a framed image of Goddess Durga. The usual clay image was conspicuous by its absence.
We were quick to notice that the room was adorned with symbols of different religions, staying true to the teachings of Vedanta and Swami Vivekanada. It very well conveyed Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s preaching that all religions lead to the same God.
The exceptionally disciplined proceedings reminded me of my alma mater Don Bosco. A volunteer specified exactly which seats to occupy in the the modestly-sized room which had a capacity of about 80 people. Within minutes, the room was chock-a -block with devotees.
Everyone was seated in an unintentional meditative silence. Swami Tyagananda, a saffron-clad Maharaj who is in charge of the center ( priests in Ramkrishna Mission are given this title) entered and started the rituals. He positioned himself on the not-so-big, yet sufficiently accommodating platform that was enlivened with a colourful array of flowers, fruits and sweets on sparkling silver, brass and copper utensils.
The divine simplicity of the room was accentuated by two grand pianos. As soon as the puja began, the pianist choir director dressed in a sharp suit stood up and called out the name of the hymn to be sung and the page . All of us took out the book of hymns placed in front of our chairs . We sang along to the chords of the grand piano. The notes of the piano reverberated in the room.
The audience closely followed the puja proceedings. We were led to singing the hymns from time to time with two piano directors in the room. At the end of the 2-hour puja, we sat in our places for the Pushpanjali, repeating in unison, the Sanskrit slokas chanted with impressive clarity by the Maharaj .
After the puja was over, we slowly queued up to worship and lay flowers at the feet of Maa Durga and proceeded to collect the Bhog Prasad.We came out of the premises in amazement of the well-organized puja. It sharply contrasted the hustle and bustle that marks Durga Puja celebration back in India.