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Bengal is the historical region now made up of West Bengal (the easternmost state in India) and the country of Bangladesh. The Bengali language is spoken in both places, but in the US “Bengali” usually refers to people from West Bengal whereas "Bangladeshi" refers to people from Bangladesh. Bengalis have lived in Michigan since at least the 1930s, when many were drawn to auto industry jobs in Detroit. According to census estimates, Michigan residents now include about 23,500 people born in India and 16,500 born in Bangladesh.
The Western Michigan Bengali Cultural Association began in 2004 when a Bengali association in Detroit lent an idol representing the multi-armed Hindu goddess Durga to a Bengali family in Grand Rapids, allowing the family to host a celebration of Durga Puja, West Bengal’s most important holiday, open to the entire community. It was so popular that the following year’s festival was held at a public venue and the Association was formed to organize additional celebrations. Since then they have organized events for several major Bengali holidays:
A multi-day fall festival honoring Durga, celebrated throughout the Hindu world but especially important in eastern India.
A fall festival honoring goddess Kali. It takes place on the same day that many Hindus celebrate Lakshmi Puja, one of the days of the multi-day Diwali holiday.
A spring festival honoring goddess Saraswati. It coincides with Vasant Panchami, a spring festival celebrated throughout India by Hindus as well as non-Hindus
Cover image courtesy of WMBCA.