Bay Area Durga Puja: Our Experience in Celebrating Puja in California and 2021 Update

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Last Updated on October 8, 2021 by Paroma

2021 Bay Area Durga Puja update

Bay Area Durga Puja 2021 Update: After what seemed like an eternity, Durga Puja is back with a bang and will be celebrated with pomp (and, safety) on the following dates in the Bay Area. There will be additional rules and safety protocols to abide by, with membership and advance registrations a must in many venues.

 

1. Oct 16-17: BayBasi, Bayview Dining Room, College Center (Building 10), College of San Mateo (1700 W Hillsdale Blvd)

BayBasi, formed in 2001, is one of the oldest Bengali organizations in the Bay Area. Their Pujo and cultural program will be held indoors this year and membership is required. The good news is that unlike other organizations where you can no longer sign up for being a member or register for the pujo (a requirement to see Pujo in person indoors), the membership for BayBasi is still open.

 

The not so good news is that it comes at a steep price tag of $110 per adult, $180 for couples with kids <5 yrs old ($35 for kids older than 5) and $70 each for dependent parents. The price is inclusive of food and all Pujo events on both days. SIGN UP HERE TO BE A MEMBER!

 

2. Oct 11-15: Sanskriti

Much like 2020, Sanskriti seems to be opting to make Durga Puja virtual this year as well by collaborating with FOG Bengal. Their website does not have any information on Puja attendance in person except the lineup of events  from Oct 11-15. You can catch their updates on Facebook to see if there will be announcements for in-person events.

 

3. Oct 9-10: Bay Area Prabasi,  at their original location, i.e. Chabot College in Hayward (25555 Hesperian Blvd)

As per their website: “This will be a MEMBER and registered guests only event. However, live streaming for the puja and local cultural event will be available for everyone at no additional cost. Failure to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines will lead to refusal of entry at the venue. The admission will be governed by campus and private securities in additional to the volunteers.

 

Members purchasing the guest passes also need to understand the guest pass provision is designed for out of town visitors. It is a honor system. For locals we encourage them to become a member. There will be limited capacity seating in the auditorium (with social distancing and mask requirements) and seats are not guaranteed for guests since members will be considered first.  Seats are allocated by the purplepass admin through an algorithm and we do NOT have control over the seating. Seating preferences like wheelchair access is honored with a written letter to [email protected].”

 

People who become members after October 2, 2021, will be unable to join Durga Puja in-person and the live programs due to Covid-safety protocols resulting in capacity restrictions at the venues, as dictated by local authorities. However, they will have access to live streaming online.

 

My notes: Membership is closed, but I could not see any link on their website for guest passes or guest registration.You will have to contact Prabasi to find out more.

 

4. Oct 10-14: Paschimi, Oasis Palace Restaurant Banquet Hall, Newark (35145 Newark Blvd)

There is no entry fee required for Pujoa attendance and for the bhog, but registration is a must to offer Anjali. Registration is currently closed (as of Oct 4, 2021) but unregistered guests are welcome to enter, visit the vendor stalls and enjoy the bhog. All registered attendees need to provide proof of vaccination (12 yrs and older).

 

Enclosure capacity will dictate the number of individuals who can be inside the Puja area at a given time. Also, both Pushpanjali and Puja areas will be kept separate from the vendor areas. You will need to register to enter the Puja area. Read all Puja attendance rules here.

 

5. Oct 8-10: Northern California Bengali Association (NCBA)/Prothoma, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont (41717 Palm Ave)

NCBA is the newest Bengali organization in the Bay Area, borne in the aftermath of the pandemic. For 2021 Pujo, only members are allowed for safety reasons. As of now, membership is paused until Oct 10, but keep your eyes peeled for this new kid on the block for 2022.

 

6. Oct 15: Women Now Bay Area Durga Utsav, Elks Lodge, 1680 Martin Ave, Santa Clara

This all woman organized Durga Puja in Santa Clara is led by Ena Sarkar, the President, CEO and founder of WomenNow TV that is a talk show focusing on the issues and news related to the South Asian diaspora in the Bay Area. Their Puja will be celebrated from Oct 14-16 with more information pending on their website. Read a previous coverage of their Puja here.

 

If you’ve missed out on all the other pujos in the Bay Area or are lamenting the steep membership fee for those still accepting members, I have good news for you. Seems like you can book your tickets in advance on Eventbrite ($15) to attend the Puja on the following days:

Oct 14 evening (Thursday, Saptami) from 6-9:30 PM, Oct 15th morning (Friday, Ashtami) from 10AM-2PM , Oct 15 evening for Dandiya and Oct 16 (Saturday, Nabami/Dashami) from 10AM-2PM. Kids 12 and below attend for free. Keep an eye out on their main website or the Eventbrite page for more information. 

 

7. Oct 8-10: Agomoni, 12501 Alcosta Blvd San Ramon

Agomoni will have their Durga Puja in person and online. Mask policy will be strictly enforced for Pushpanjali and although there will be no Sindoor Khela this year, fully vaccinated folks can participate in Sindoor daan. Food/dining is for members only. It is not very clear from their website on whether or not you have to be a member to enjoy Pujo activities (including the cultural program) but I am guessing it will be that way. Anyway, registration/membership is closed for now. You can contact them here with any questions you may have.

 

Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja

 

 

Durga Puja: A Time of celebration (no matter where you are)

The season of falling leaves and a nip in the air is known to the western hemisphere as “Fall” with the eastern hemisphere sticking to the good old English word “Autumn” and gearing up what signals as some major festivities that come along with it. My birth state of West Bengal (India) gets into the thick of things as preparations start for the eagerly awaited and yearned festival of Durga Puja (or Pujo as we Bengalis say) celebrating the Goddess Durga returning to her parents abode, aka Earth from her celestial residence.

Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja

 

The five days, which mark the return of the Goddess with her entourage (aka her children) is celebrated with great fanfare, pomp and show which rivals a billion glitzy carnivals combined. People don their very best and throng “pandals” (i.e. makeshift structures hosting the idols of the Goddess and her children), offer their prayers, eat and make merry.

 

Millions of people take to the streets of Kolkata (the capital of West Bengal and my birth city) during this time (think of Times Square, NYC frenzy times a thousand) and go pandal hopping. The pandals themselves are intricate works of art and often compete for creativity in local competitions. On the 5th day, the idol is immersed in the waters of the Ganges, as her devotees look forward to one more year till she returns.

 

Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja
Bay Area Durga Puja Anjalee

 

As pithy as this introduction to one of the biggest Hindu festivals in the world sounds, truth be told, there is nothing religious about it. Durga Puja, specially for those who grew up in Kolkata, is essentially a social festival participated by all, irrespective of religious, caste or creed. It’s a fun social gathering, an escape from the daily grind and a time to make merry. Perhaps because of this, my ties to this ritual have still not gone south unlike my rabid dislike for organized religion and traditions.

Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja

 

Being a part of my childhood with no religious sanctions imposed or rules to follow, the kid in me feels the compelling need to visit the  nearest venue in North America and get a glimpse of the idol while going through the motions of things that would transport me to my childhood. Kolkata has long ceased to be home, but these five days somehow always remain tinged with pensiveness and I guess will always be wherever I live or whichever place I choose to call home.

 

Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja
Durga Puja by Bay Basi
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Bay Area Durga Puja: What to expect (pre-pandemic version)

Every Durga Puja unfailingly tosses several choices of venues where Bengalis congregate in the Bay area to celebrate this festival. My resident city San Francisco is not one of those venues (unfortunately) and so one has to go to either the east or the south bay where the South Asian diaspora live.

 

Bay area Durga Pujas tend to be  massive in scale and equally impersonal, and one feel easily detached and isolated in a sea of people jostling to get a bite of the “prasad” or snatches of flower petals for the “anjali” (i.e. prayers offered to the Goddess).

 

There is no entry fee to actually attend the puja (and all venues have ample parking) but you will have to fork out money for cultural programs in the evening which involve getting celebrity guests from India. 

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Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations, Durga Puja in Bay Area, California Durga Puja

 

Ever since we discovered BayBasi Sharadotsav event at Foster city, we have had repeat visits to this smaller venue which did not seem to be overwhelmed by a huge crowd.  This is also one of the “nearby” Durga Puja venues for us compared to the long-ish trek to South and East Bay.

 

As is customary with other Durga Pujas in the Bay Area, here too the celebrations take place on school grounds and the idol is placed in an auditorium. You can check their website for information on Anjalee times and they also have small portions of bhog neatly lined out on a table outside the auditorium. Plus, there are stalls selling food (Bengali catering from South Bay as well as non-Bengali food options) to quell your hunger. 

 

Durga Puja in the Bay Area/Northern California: Other venues (pre-pandemic version)

We used to attend the Prabasi Durga Puja celebrations in the past in the East Bay (Chabot College, Hayward) but it soon ballooned into a very crowded affair with sweltering crowds lined up for Anjali.

 

More importantly, the quality of the bhog (Khichuri, Labra, chaatni) went down considerably (it was catered out to a Non-Bengali restaurant; no regional snobbery here but bhoger khichuri is something very Bengali that one cannot master without prior experience) and we did not feel like dishing out $10 for that mediocre food after standing for hours in line (it was that bad).

 

I kind of also felt over the years that they are more into catering to their long time members and without a membership, your experience would not be that pleasant. For 2019, it seems that the Puja event will continue to be held at Santa Clara county fairgrounds at San Jose. Since we live in San Francisco, we have not ventured out too far, i.e. driven to the South Bay to explore more Puja venues but I have linked all Bay Area Durga Puja venues with their updated event information at the beginning of this post, so please do have a look.

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Parting thoughts on Bay Area Durga Puja Celebrations

At the end of the day, the realization that these makeshift Pujas will never be able to substitute for the real thing is very much there and tugs gently at the heartstrings. But this, like many other things is a byproduct of the choices that I made, for a life on foreign shores.

 

So for better or for worse, these Pujas in a tiny school room, with a small idol and improvised traditions will make do. For as long as I wear my mother’s sari (in the most grotesque way), show up at the nearest Puja venue and try to remember snatches of the mantras while trying my best to aim the flowers at the Goddess’s feet, I will always carry a Durga Puja of my childhood in my heart. And that is what is important to me, that is all that matters.

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