Culture For Members

How the Nordics lead Europe in Indian Durga Puja celebrations

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
How the Nordics lead Europe in Indian Durga Puja celebrations
The Durga Puja 2022 celebrations in Copenhagen were centred around a large, ceiling height, recreation of Nyhavn. Photo: Bengalis in Denmark

Last year, the organisers of the Indian Durga Puja celebrations in Copenhagen recreated Nyhavn, the city's 17th-century waterfront, to mark the 10th year of festivities. But Copenhagen's is one of more than 20 pujas held in the Nordic countries.


The festival, which celebrates Durga, one of the aspects of the Hindu mother goddess Mahadevi, is the most important festival of the year for India's Bengali community and sees the entire city of Kolkata shut down for a ten-day carnival.

In 2021, it was declared part of the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" by the UN's cultural agency UNESCO. 

But as the size of Indian communities in Denmark, Sweden and Norway have grown, so has the scale of celebrations for festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali. 

"Outside of UK, I would think that this is one of the biggest pujas we have in Europe," Abishek Ghosh, one of the organisers of the Copenhagen event, told The Local, arguing that it was starting to rival the puja held in Cologne, Germany. 

With more than 2,000 people expected to attend the three-day celebrations at a sports centre in Bagsværd between the 20th, 21st and 22nd of October, the festival is also now bigger than any of the city's four or five Diwali celebrations, which take place in early November. 


In Stockholm, Durga Puja has been celebrated for over 30 years, but is now split into four or five separate events, with a three day ritual and cultural event held at Järfalla Kulturscen and a five-day Durga Puja held at Stockholm's Hindu Temple in Helenelund, north of Stockholm.

When the first five-day puja was held in 2018, the organisers used the Nobel Prize Museum and Stockholm's Stadshuset as the backdrop, signalling that Durga was coming to Stockholm.

"It's like Christmas for you. For all Bengalis, Durga Puja is the largest celebration," said Debjanee Das, who manages communications for the event at Stockholm's temple. "You do not need to be very religious in order to celebrate Durga Puja."   

Durga is associated with protection, strength, and motherhood, as well as destruction and war. She is known for slaying the half buffalo demon Mahishasura, who is often depicted alongside her.

Das, a doctor who has been living in Sweden for 30 years, said that Durga was only one of five gods worshipped during the puja.

"Durga is coming with her children to her parents' house in these days. That is why we worship not only Durga, but her daughters Saraswati and Lakshmi, and then her sons Kartik and Ganesha," she said. "They are coming to their maternal parents' house and celebrating. So this is a kind of mythological story of the tradition." 

As well as Durga, the festival celebrates her daughters, Saraswati and Lakshmi, and her sons Kartik and Ganesha. Photo: Stockholm Puja Council


Although the pujas are organised primarily by local Bengali communities, Ghosh and Das emphasise that in Copenhagen and Stockholm the celebrations are open to all, and are attended by people from every region of India, by Hindus from Bangladesh, and by curious people from Denmark and Sweden.

"That's the nature of the Durga Puja festival, even back in Bengal," Ghosh says. "Although it's primarily a Hindu festival, the whole city shuts down and everyone participates, and that includes people from all religions."


Bengalis in the Nordics have also started following the Kolkata tradition where residents in particular streets, areas, or clubs spend months building elaborate 'pandals', or pavilions, often with a topical theme, such as The Vatican, Lego, or Facebook. 

"Last year, our thought was, 'okay, this is ten years of Durga coming to Copenhagen. So let's make a Copenhagen reference', so we modelled it on Nyhavn," Ghosh says. 

The construction was led by Raja Mukherjee, an engineer who works for the oil company Total, and was built sustainably, using recycled cartons and wood, much of which was picked up from local supermarkets. 

"Basically he lends out his house for two months and people come and work in his backyard and in his room, and then on the last day, they go to this place and assemble all of it together," Ghosh said.

Last year, the Copenhagen puja also drew the attention of the Times of India for being the first in Europe to have female priests carrying out the rituals. 

The 2023 pandal is based on a traditional Indian house and will not have a Danish theme, Ghosh said. 

Das said that in Stockholm, the organisers did not have access to a permanent hall, making it it difficult to make the elaborate pavilions seen in Kolkata. 

"We cannot do on that large scale because the weather is restricting our creativity," she said. "But we are adjusting accordingly." 


Ghosh said that interest in the event had exploded since he and some fellow Bengalis launched it back in 2012. 

"It needs a fair amount of manpower and budget, so it's not easy to start something like this, but in 2012, when I had only been one year in Copenhagen, a few of us came together and said, 'okay, let's do this', so we ordered some idols from Kolkata, which took three to four months to come in a ship. We also, from the get-go, wanted to promote cultural integration with Denmark." 

Key to this has been the involvement of Bente Wolff, the Danish anthropologist who has led the National Museum of Denmark's project to preserve Danish buildings in Serampore, the colony Denmark established outside Kolkata in the 17th century.

Wolff, Ghosh said, "has been visiting us from the very beginning". 

According to the Times of India, Sweden accounts for half of the Durga Pujas held in the Nordic region, with celebrations also held in Helsingborg, Gothenburg, Uppsala, and now even in Luleå in the far north. 

In Denmark, a puja is also held in Aalborg. In Norway, celebrations are held in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. In Finland, celebrations are held in Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. There is even a puja held in Reykjavik in Iceland. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also