Last Updated on September 25, 2022 by Paroma
2022 Bay Area Durga Puja update: Where to Celebrate Durga Puja in the Bay Area
Bay Area Durga Puja 2022 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. Here are the best places in Bay Area to celebrate Durga Puja:
1. September 30-October 2: BayBasi, Brewer Island Elementary School, 1151 Polynesia Dr, Foster City, CA 94404
BayBasi, formed in 2001, is one of the oldest Bengali organizations in the Bay Area. This year, BayBasi is kicking off the festivities with an indoor Dandiya night on Sep 30 (food is available for purchase). Advance tickets can be purchased here for $20 per person or at the door for $25.
The actual Puja is on October 1 and 2 with a brand new 7ft tall idol of the Goddess and although the Anjali is open for all, the lunch and dinner are for members only (you can become a member by signing up on their website). Membership also gets you discounted tickets for the Chandrabindoo show on October 15th! The cultural programs featuring guest artists from Kolkata (Supratip Bhattacharya and Subhasree Debnath) on Oct 1 and 2 is free of charge for all.
2. September 24-25: Sanskriti, Newark Pavilion, 6430 Thornton Avenue, Newark, CA 94560
Sanskriti’s celebrations are open to all, as in there is no membership fee, no entry fee and definitely no parking fee. The prasad and bhog distributions are after Pushpanjali and the celebrations continue from 11AM-5PM. The cultural events start at 2PM and are free for all except the BISHAKH JYOTI event which is ticketed at $25 per person.
3. September 30- oct 2: Bay Area Prabasi, at Newpark Mall, Newark, 440 Newpark Mall Rd, Newark, CA 94560
This year Bay Area Prabasi is going all out with a brand new idol and Mandap decorations from Kolkata and bringing in biggies like Benny Dial and Sourendro Soumyojit for their October 1 and 2 cultural programs along with tons of local talent. You can book your tickets for these shows here. They will have dozens of stalls selling all kinds of yummy Indian food for purchase. Become a member here for more benefits.
4. October 1-5: Paschimi, Oasis Palace Restaurant Banquet Hall, Newark (35145 Newark Blvd)
This year, the biggest draw for this Bay Area Durga Puja is the ticketed cultural event showcasing the performance of Somlata and the Aces on Sun Oct 2, at 9PM (buy tickets here). As for the main Puja itself, the Akal Bodhon starts at 6PM on October 1 (Saturday), with Puja and celebrations throughout the day from Oct 2-5 (cultural events are by kids and local talent from Oct 3-5 on evenings). Parking is free at the venue.
This year the Pushpanjali is free for all, but performing Kumari Puja or Sandhi Puja will require a registration. A single registration is good for a family for upto 4 days. Please retain the receipt of the registration to present at the venue. They do not sell Puja items at the mandap so you need to bring your own offerings.
5. September 30-October 2nd: Northern California Bengali Association (NCBA)/Prothoma, Dublin High School, 8151 Village Pkwy, Dublin, CA 94568
NCBA is the newest Bengali organization in the Bay Area, borne in the aftermath of the pandemic. This year, they will kick off the festivities with a Bodhon and Mahayala program starting from 7:30 PM on Friday September 30 and then proceed to the actual Puja with Pushpanjali and bhog distribution (plus their evening cultural program) on Oct 1 and 2. The Oct 2 program with Iman Chakraborty is ticketed. They also have a special Satyajit Ray Tribute organized for 5:30 PM on Oct 2.
Another unique distinguishing feature of Prothoma (true to its name) is having a female priest Ipshita Bhattacharya conduct the Bodhon Puja. From their website it seems like you need to register to be a member for full meal options, but the bhog should be free for all.
6. October 1-2: Women Now Bay Area Durga Utsav, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
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 1-2 with more information on their website. Read a previous coverage of their Puja here.
This year, Durga Puja is a ticketed affair (parking is free and kids under 10 enter for free) with a two day package of $30 that gets you entry for all events or individual day passes for different events from $10-15. The Dandiya event on Sep 30 evening requires a separate ticket of $20. Here are all the ticket prices.
7. September 30-October 2: Agomoni, 12501 Alcosta Blvd San Ramon
Agomoni will have their Durga Puja in person this year but the website does not offer much detail. You have to be a member to request participation in their cultural activities and enjoy the Puja meals. You can contact them here with any questions you may have about the 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.
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.
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.
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: What to expect
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.
The other very important thing to note about these Bay Area Durga Puja celebrations is that for most places, the lunches are for members only but the Bhog is pretty much free everywhere. Some like Prabasi have the option of buying food from their stalls. Also, the lines for bhog can get pretty long and chaotic.
Since scarcity of food at the mandap can be a real possibility, I recommend eating a snack before attending the Puja, getting some bhog and then stopping by one of the many Indian restaurants on the East or South Bay afterwards for a wait-free meal.
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 2022, it seems that the Puja event has been shifted to Newark. Since we live in San Francisco, we have not ventured out too far, i.e. driven to the South Bay or other parts of East 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.
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.