Uma Thomas, MLA, was leaving the Durga Puja pandal at Panampilly Nagar when this correspondent reached there, driven by the curiosity to find how a people away from their homeland trying to live their culture in a land that has become their home over the years. “These people have been organising this festival so well for years here,” she said, sharing with those around her the sweets she had just been given by her hosts.
“P T Thomas used to be of huge help to us,” one of the key organisers of the Navaratri celebrations of the Viswakarma Cultural Association told Onmanorama after Uma left. She was elected the Thrikkakara MLA earlier this year in the bypoll caused by her husband Thomas’ death. It was Thomas who helped them get special permission to conduct the celebrations at a nearby hall in a restricted manner in the past two years amid the Covid curbs.
The Viswakarma Cultural Association is a collective of labourers from Odisha and Bengal who have settled in Kochi. Its members, belonging to around 200 families, are engaged in gardening works.
This is the first time the association is conducting the celebrations in a full-fledged manner post-pandemic and they have been trying to compensate for all those moments of joy the pandemic snatched away from them in the past two years.
The celebrations started, as elsewhere in the country, on October 1 and will culminate on October 5, on the day known as Dussehra back in their homeland and Vijayadashami in Kerala.
“Since we have work and our children have schools, we are unable to go to our native places for the
Dussehra celebrations. Hence we organise the celebrations here by following all customs and rituals associated with it,” Narayana Patra, the association’s secretary, told Onmanorama.
“The association has been organising the festival at Panambilly Nagar since 2006 three years after the collective was formed. It only had 80 members when it was formed. The member families include those who have been living in Kochi for the past three decades and some who came as recently as two or three years ago,” Uttam Sahoo, treasurers, said. Bikas Das is the president of the outfit.
The main attraction of the festival is the day-long pujas that are performed at the make-shift pandal which is adorned by stunning idols of goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Priests who have come from Bengal perform the pujas as the sound of shankh (conch shell) and holy bells fill the air. The idols were made by three artists who came from Bengal to Kochi a month ago. They made six idols of Durga of which the one at the Panampilly Nagar pandal is the tallest, the organisers said. The remaining were taken for pandals at Gandhinagar, Kanyakumari and Kozhikode.
Feasts with traditional north Indian dishes are served to all those who come to the pandal. The expenses of the feast are met by different units of the association every day. The association also conducts a blood donation drive every January 26 on the occasion of Republic Day.
Various associations have been organising Navratri celebrations in Kochi as the city is home to diverse communities from different parts of the country. The Kerala Banga Samskriti Sangha, and the North Indian Association of Kochi are among them.