Last year around this time, I was traveling on an audacious road trip from India to Myanmar. The idea was to avail any mode of transportation except flight thus it involved train, car, taxi, horse carriages, boats, electric scooters, bus and a lot of walking. Since the journey also coincided with Durga Pujo thus was not expecting much in Myanmar. I am from Kolkata thus; I have actually set my city as the benchmark when it comes to craziness during Durga Pujo.
The journey had actually started from Imphal in Manipur as due to time constraint the road trip from Kolkata to Myanmar border at Tamu was cut short. The journey from Kolkata to Imphal was done using flight as it was cheaper than a train and car journey and the time consumed did matter a lot.
Right from Imphal itself towards Tamu border crossing we came across several Kaash Phool (Grassy Flower) lined up all around the road. With white plumes of cloud against a blue sky, it was the perfect picture postcard for a Durga Pujo invitation.
Cutting the narrative short it took us around five days to reach Yangon and as like any other trip I had done some basic homework about the town and in one such searches, I came across a very famous Durga Pujo celebration at the heart of Yangon. I had kept this information aside as I knew that with the time constraint it would be impossible to visit this temple.
The day we reached Yangon we were really tired after a long and slow train journey from Bagan and add to that we did a walking heritage tour of Yangon city center in the evening thus I somehow reached back my hostel and crashed into my bunk.
Honestly, when you are in a new country and a new city there is no time for rest thus after resting an hour my legs started itching and wanted to just go around my hostel locality on foot. Casually wearing shorts and a t-shirt I was walking around the neighborhood when at a distance I heard drums beating. The sound of the drums was similar to that of any school drill thus assumed it was from a school. Then I realized that it was eight in the evening and no school around the world would be practicing march past at this hour.
I simply followed the direction of the sound and after a minute, the sound suddenly became louder and could sense the number of drums had increased. Within a couple of minutes, I was almost near to the place where I assumed the sound was coming from.
There was a huge commotion outside this particular building and I could see a huge number of cars stopping and people getting off. As I was within visual distance, I could see the faces of these people and all of them had Indian features. I still was not sure what I was approaching.
Once I reached in front of the building which was lit up like a Christmas tree with decorative lamps and a huge tent in front did I realize that this is the same Durga Pujo that I had read about earlier and ironically it was located with ten-minute walking distance from my hostel.
I suddenly felt like a home away from home with people who I could safely assume were Bengalis by their typical facial featured but the only difference was the language. The younger generation was speaking English and Burmese whereas the older generation was speaking Bengali amongst each other with a very weird accent.
I just gathered up all the courage and introduced myself as a tourist from Kolkata (India) to one of the elders. Their faces lit up and welcomed me inside the temple. They were happy to show me around and gave me a list of activities that they have planned for the next few days. One of them even passed me some Laddus, which were being distributed as Prasad. The elders personally invited me to the feast, which takes place all the five days of the Pujo both during lunchtime as well as during dinner.
One of the elders asked me about Kolkata and quite nostalgically informed me that he had once visited the city some 50 years back and have no memories of the city and the only thing he remembers if the large rive with a bridge separating two cities. I assumed that he was referring to Howrah and Kolkata being separated by the Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu).
By then the drummers were back in action since Dhaak was not available in Myanmar they used normal steel acoustic marching drums along with acoustic snare drums. What was unique was that the young boys of the community played the drums and each family would send their young and adult male members to play the drums.
Dhunuchi Naach was also being performed but instead of the earthen holder, the locals were using a metal pan with a holder. The dance was also unique as the younger generation was not aware of the traditional steps thus they created one of their own.
What was unique about this Durga Pujo in Yangon was it was not only the local Bengali community but also many ethnic Indian communities residing in Yangon to come to pray during the festivities.
While the celebration was on inside the temple, the outside tents were buzzing with activities as a group of young men were busy preparing for the Bhoog feast. Large cauldrons were being stocked up with vegetables in the preparation of the grand lunch and dinner.
People of all cultures were visiting the temple, some wearing traditional Indian dresses while some were wearing the typical Bengali white sari with a red border. There were even men wearing the traditional Burmese Loongi (Lungi) coming to enjoy the festivities. Over the years, many of the community members had intermarried thus there it was like a mini India in Yangon.