Communists take pride in being godless, but even during the long 34 years of Left Front rule in Bengal, the state’s centuries-long tradition of Durga, Kali, Lakshmi or Saraswati Puja was never meddled with. In fact, there would be the ubiquitous Communist bookstalls in almost every puja pandal.

Under Mamata Banerjee’s CM-ship, paribartan has arrived, in many terrible ways.

Among those, what has hurt Bengali Hindus the most is perhaps the hustling, bullying, blackmailing and banning of Saraswati Puja by Muslim fanatics made brazen by Mamata’s politics of appeasement. One of the reasons for the remarkable rise of Hindutva in the state is this assault.

Bring the topic up in any Bengali household conversation, and there is now an almost unanimous, “Ati hoye gechhey.” Things have been taken beyond all levels of sanity and tolerance.

Why Saraswati is central

The war on worship of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and culture, strikes at the heart of our civilisation. These attacks aim to weaken the celebration of finer things of life, the joy of existence that Hinduness gifts you devoid of the promise of a euphoric, sex-packed afterlife.

Maa Saraswati represents that openness, that celebration of joy and knowledge and music.
Her earliest mention is in the sacred Rigveda. One of our civilisational rivers, which later dried up but is widely mentioned in ancient texts, is named after her.

“Ambi tamey, nadi tamey, devi tamey Saraswati.” Best of mothers, best of rivers, best of goddesses, Saraswati, says the Rigveda [2:41:16].

Battleground Tehatta high school

But in February 2017, hundreds of students of Tehatta High School in Uluberia, Bengal, had to march to National Highway 6 and block the road, carrying a three-foot idol of Maa Saraswati. They were protested against an order which put the school under lock, preventing them from celebrating Saraswati Puja. Some Muslim fanatics had demanded that it be stopped unless Nabi Diwas or Prophet’s birthday was also celebrated.

Students from classes VII to XII came with local residents. The police fired teargas and charged with sticks.

Students organising Saraswati Puja in schools is one of the oldest and most glorious traditions in Bengal. This festival is observed in schools because of its direct link to knowledge.

Also, Saraswati Puja has always been more of a cultural even than religious in Bengal. One of the state’s finest poets, Kazi Nazrul Islam, mentions Saraswati in his repertoire of devotional songs.

Long list of tyranny

Again in 2018, two Muslim administrators of the Mamata regime dropped Saraswati Puja from the circular on annual holidays of Uttar Dinajpur district primary schools. After much outrage, it was restored in the list.

Or in 2014, advocate Rama Prasad Sarkar had to file a public interest litigation in the Calcutta High Court after reports of fundamentalists in Bengal’s largest Muslim majority district Murshidabad (64% of the population) trying to ban Saraswati Puja in schools, pressuring Hindus to not blow conch shells or draw alpana or rangoli in their houses.

The court accepted the petition and disposed it by directing that the religious rights of Hindus be upheld.

Triggering rise of Hindutva

In a Bengal which otherwise did not bother much about religion since Partition, these naked acts of appeasement and consequently the attacks at the heart of Bengali culture has immensely to the rapid rise of Hindutva. There are VHP, Bajrang Dal or Durga Vahini teams in each district keeping a sharp eye on potential attacks on Saraswati Puja.

It has alarmed and angered the youngest generation of Bengalis, in schools and colleges. The wrath of Saraswati may shape the political future of Bengal.