Bengali students aid new Indo-American museum
With 10 hands, the Hindu goddess Durga fought and killed a widely feared demon king to prove that good always triumphs over evil.
Durga’s annual celebration in South Asia honors that triumph over a period of four days. Celebrations include traditional food, song and cultural dance.
The UIC Bengali Students Association honored Durga with a celebration of its own this year. The student organization donated an artifact of Durga to the Indo-American Heritage Museum, the first Indian-American museum in the nation. The museum plans to open a Chicago-based location next year.
The artifact has been on UIC’s campus for nearly 17 years.
“This is going to be a museum that’s good for next generations,” said Soumyadip Sett, doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering and president of the UIC Bengali Students Association.
The idol is the first major artifact donated to the museum, which accepted the donation and celebrated the goddess during its Marigold event Nov. 9 at Chicago’s Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center. The event was held to thank members, volunteers and contributors who have helped the museum’s advancement.
Amita Banerji, director of the Indo-American Heritage Museum, said the artifact would tell the story of the student organization’s members — Indians who live in America — and what they find important about their culture.
“For us it’s a wonderful story, and it illustrates exactly what the museum stands for: to be able to portray the Indian-American story in this country,” Banerji said.
In South Asia, Durga’s idol is made of clay and immersed in a river, where it dissolves. After dissolving, it’s believed that Durga’s spirit returns to a divine realm. In America, the tradition has changed. It’s more common for Indian-American students and families to celebrate Durga for one day instead of four, and the idol isn’t immersed into a river.
“Here, it sometimes feels like you’re cut out from your country, from your roots,” Sett said.
Cultural traditions may evolve, but the museum and the UIC Bengali Students Association want to make sure those traditions aren’t lost.
“We feel we need to preserve the cultural heritage,” Banerji said. “The community’s own desire is to document, preserve and display its history and to celebrate its heritage.”