In the Indian Hindu society of today voluntary associations form for the purpose of sponsoring annual religious ceremonies or pūjās. These associations are organized by young men who collect funds from their neighbors and friends, install images for worship in temporary shelters on open land on the ceremonial days, and employ priests to perform the religious rituals. Such associations may be composed of men of any caste, and although they observe religious ceremonies, they also provide many secular diversions. These associations devoted to religious ceremonies have proliferated since India gained her Independence. They seem to exemplify the changes that have come into Hindu society with the assurance of the preservation of the traditional culture by the new government. They also indicate the greater awareness of the larger community beyond the range of the family, due to enhanced mobility of the population and the trend toward urban dwelling.



Reprinted in the Bengali daily newspaper Anandabazar Patrika on October 6, 1962.




Hutum Penchār Nakshā, anonymous publication, credited to Kali Prasanna Sinha. The book is a satire on the nineteenth century society of Calcutta, and a classic in Bengali literature.


Gourinath Shastri, “Bānglār Mrinmoyee Durgā Pūjā” (in Bengali), Shāradiyā Manjari, 1358 (1952), pp. 5–6.


In this text the word “image” is used as synonymous to the Bengali term pratimā. In modern written Bengali the word pratimā indicates a man-made statue depicting any deity in clay, stone, wood, or metal. Usually paintings depicting the forms of deities are referred to as pictures, or pot. A pratimā is not sacred by itself, but becomes sacred only when it is worshipped. On the other hand, in colloquial Bengali the word thākur is used to refer to the pratimā of any deity, as well as the deity in abstraction. Thus “Durgā thākur” may refer to the image of Durgā as well as the “goddess” Durgā. So in some contexts the term thākur may be translated as “god” or “goddess,” whereas the word pratimā indicates only the image modelled for worship. In still other contexts the term thākur is used to address persons held in respect. In old Bengali literature one's father was addressed as thākur. Currently in rural areas, and in some city families, a priest may be called thākur-mahāshaya. In modern kinship terminology a father's father is called thākurdādā, and a father's mother is called thākurmā, and the word thākur is retained in various other kinship terms. For further information on the use of the term thākur in kinship context, see my article “Formal and Informal Relations in the Hindu Joint Household of Bengal,” Man in India, Vol. 31, April-June 1951, No. 2, 67.


Sarma Jyotirmoyee , “Changes in the Durga Puja Festival,”
Study of Changes in Traditional Cultures
, ed. Chattopadhaya K. P. (
University of Calcutta
), pp.


Paṇḍals are made of bamboos, tarpaulins, ropes, etc. All such temporary structures built for particular purposes and taken down directly afterwards are known as paṇḍals. They are not necessarily religious. Paṇḍals may be constructed to receive wedding guests if there is not enough space in one's house, and any public gathering may be held in paṇḍals, including university convocations. The structures may be flimsy or solid, depending on the occasions for which they are built. There are contractors in the city who take charge of building paṇḍals. A well built paṇḍal will give complete shelter from the sun and the rain, and will be fitted with electric lights and fans.


Sarma Jyotirmoyee , “A Village in West Bengal,”
India's Villages
, ed. Srinivas M. N. , 2nd ed. (
Asia Publishing House
), p.


Chattopadhaya Bankimchandra ,
Ānanda Math
(in Bengali), (


Usually three, and sometimes four, disks made of solā or pith, strung together, and used as a sacred ornament.


kālī is another form of Shakti, and is of the same order of divinity as Durgā. However, Kālīpūjā has the history of having been a non-Brahmanic ceremony. It later became included in the Brahmanic order. Even now instances may be found of Kālī being worshipped by non-Brahman priests. But when upper caste families sponsor Kālī pūjā at home, Kālī is worshipped by Brahman priests of high ranks. When young men organize Kālī pūjā in the city, they bring priests similar to those who worship Durgā in the sārvajanīn paṇḍals.


The Hindu child's formal education begins on a Saraśvati pūjā day, after he reaches the age of five. In the presence of the image of Saraśvati, a child is helped by the priest to trace few letters of the alphabet on the floor with a chalk. In Bengal the ceremony is called haté kharhi, or “the chalk in hand” ceremony.


Durkheim Émile ,
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
, translated by Swain J. W. , (
The Free Press
. See also
Eliade Mircea , The
Sacred and the Profane
, Translated by Trask Willard R. , (
New York
Harper and Brothers


For discussions see

Dumont Louis and Pocock David F. , “Pure and Impure,”
Contributions to Indian Sociology
, No. 3, (
), pp.
. See also
Stevenson H. N. C. , “
Status Evaluation in the Hindu Caste System
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
, Vol.
, (


Durkheim, op. cit., pp. 337 ff.

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