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October - November 2008


Spotlight

PANCHAMUKHEE AND CONTEMPORARY BENGALI DIASPORA IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

Plato, in his days, had always advised the starting an article of this nature with absolute humility, assuming that the reader has neither knowledge nor interest in the subject. Defining Panchamukhee at the outset, therefore, becomes necessary and copybook. The second part of the title and its relationship with the first part, however, proves to be more difficult and delicate; especially around the slippery word ‘contemporary’, that always needs tuning, like a shifty radio station.

Panchamukhee is a social platform that encompasses all the fuzziness of the famed oriental mysticism. Following Plato’s footsteps again, in order to throw some light on that fog, let’s utilise the form of a dialogue between Janmejaye and Vaishampayan, the revered rishis.

Janmejaye: Is Panchamukhee a Bengali organisation?

Vaishampayan: Well, it is and it isn’t. Considering its membership profile and its link to a successful Durga Puja in the hallowed city of London, it is quite bong-ish. But it also has a wider un-Bong and broader pan-India appeal. Definitely, it plays beyond classic Indian clannishness.

Janmejaye: Does it then lean towards religiosity, with its Durga Puja?

Vaishampayan: It attempts to create a social milieu through artistic and cultural expressions, and Durga Puja is just another medium to convey this.

Janmejaye: Is it just Harrow, or North West London, that they are interested in?

Vaishampayan: Oh you should see the crowds thronging from all across the great wide island of Vilayet, also known to us as Bilet. It definitely covers the adorable Home Counties and spreads itself beyond that as well.

The reader may, by now, have got an idea that certain things are better left undefined, as long as they serve a healthy purpose. And that, precisely, is what Panchamukhee’s vision is : To provide an open platform for like minded individuals and organisations, to come together, create art and cultural performances across the diversity of modern day UK and promote cultural cohesion and awareness of social causes. Like the spontaneous crystallisation of a snowflake, Panchamukhee started with a Durga Puja just three years back, in 2006, and rapidly expanded itself with art performances for charity shows and social events.

Genesis or Beta-Testing

This year, as Panchamukhee toddles into its third Durga Puja, we humbly believe that a certain amount of retrospection helps, without indulging in mutual back-patting.

The term ‘Pancha’, though literally meaning five in Sanskrit (and its derivatives), in its metaphorical sense broadens itself into the multitudinous. Unlike the Chinese special digit of eight, which portends fortuity, five has a hint of spirituality,universality and ubiquity about it, like the Panchabhoot (the five elements that make up everything), Pancha-amrita (the universal ambrosia), Panchashara (the five amour-tipped arrows of the Indian Cupid, Kama), and not least of all, Panchayet, the counsel of the respected (or elected) five, guiding rural polity.

Good conquers evil depicted in Mahalaya performed by Panchamukhee

One’s no way suggesting that the nomenclature followed high brow philosophy. It was more of serendipity, when five young Indian expatriates, amidst coffee-sipping and perennial yearnings (ad nauseum, I mention) for home and culture, decided to organise a Durga Puja. To the uninitiated, arranging Durga Puja is a favourite pastime for Bengalis. The old adage goes that if two Bengalis get together, a Durga Puja emerges and if the number is three, it results in two political factions.

Now, there was no dearth of Durga Pujas in great, old Londres. So how is it that Panchamukhee became so popular in such a short time ? And what sets it apart? That brings us to the second part of the title nomenclature, about the contemporary Bengali diasporas in the UK. Historically, the Bengalis did not come to the UK in large numbers, unlike the Chinese or Irish immigration waves witnessed in the US. Bengalis came in drips and drops; an engineer here, a few doctors there. Communities were formed; social clubs and Durga Puja’s sprang up as irrefutably as Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, such organisations were predominantly local and closely-knit. So when a ripple of young Bengali professionals arrived in London in late 1990’s and early 2000’s, they struggled to find a platform of contemporary social and artistic expressions that accepted everyone with open arms. There’s your raison d’etre!!

In the last two years, Panchamukhee has become extremely popular to a wide gamut of young Indian professionals (not to mention the not-so-young). The Durga Utsav moved to a larger venue at the Harrow Arts Centre in 2007, when the event witnessed more than 6000 visitors over the four days - quite an unprecedented achievement. The key differentiators for Panchamukhee, as the business minded would say, were three:

Enhancing cultural cohesion within the cultural diversity of modern day London through a wide variety of art and cultural programmes

Open platform : Homely and open atmosphere where everyone is truly welcome to participate and share the fun and festivities

Connection with wider social causes : Supporting social causes through interactions with a variety of educational and social institutions and charitable organisations

A full Harrow Arts Centre hall on Maha-ashtami

This year, Panchamukhee plans a magnificent show of world music and culture throughout the 6 days of the Durga Utsav 2008. Beginning on Panchami (October 4), it would commence with the quintessential Bengali folk music from Dohar (a renowned group from Kolkata), continue through the rhythmic fusion music from Talmantra (a multinational group of musicians), and conclude with the scintillating beats of Bollywood dance music and Brazilian salsa !

We expect visitors and performers from all strata and cross sections of the community, from within London and outside. Durga Utsav and Panchamukhee would be a marvellous pretext for all of us to congregate and celebrate the power of art and music to catalyse social cohesion and communal bonding.

So, please visit the Panchamukhee Durga Utsav 2008 at the Harrow Arts Centre (Hatch End, Uxbridge Road, Middlesex, HA5 4EA) between October 4th and 9th ,2008. For more details on events and times, please visit www.panchamukhee.org. We look forward to your support and participation to make it a grand success.

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