Durga Pujo: soaking up in the Divine Glow

IMG-20181019-WA0036.jpgThe golden sunlight, the clear blue sky, the white cottony clouds
The gentle cool breeze, the sweet smell of shiuli, or just the memory of that smell whiffing through the air
Ears straining for the sound of dhak, the excitement of dhunochi dance
Absurd heart yearning to soak up in the spirit of Durga Pujo and the festivities
To while away the mornings, the afternoons and the evenings idly busy in the pandal
To feel purposeful, yet do nothing
To feel the nearness of the soft glow of the divine power
The positivity, the optimism and the cheer

Dressing up in best saris, suits and jewelry
Showing ourselves off in the radiance of the divine glow
Sampling the choicest delicacy
Hopping from pandal to pandal as if nothing else mattered on those four days of Matri Pujo

The carefree Pujo days while we were growing up
Memories come flooding back with the gentle breeze, the soft dew, the all forgiving smile and the golden aura of Devi
“Devi arrived on ghatak (horse) this year, that’s bad omen,” exclaims my mother
The all-powerful Mother Goddess can only be the harbinger of hope, of all the good that awaits us, protests my absurd heart!!

Goddess Durga ponders upon her earthly sojourn: the changing flavours of Sharod Utsav

Goddess Durga is getting ready for her annual earthly visit to grace the Sharod Utsav or Durga Puja that is celebrated with much gusto in West Bengal, Tripura, Orissa, in C R Park in Delhi, and in smaller scales across India. According to mythology, Durga was first worshipped in spring (Basanti Puja) by King Surath.  Advised by Sage Medha, the exiled King Surath invoked the Goddess to win back his lost kingdom. Though Basanti Puja is still celebrated, Sharod Utsav has assumed far grander proportions. Goddess Durga was first worshipped in autumn by Lord Rama who sought her blessings to defeat the demon king Ravana. Lord Rama’s ‘Akalbodhan’ (untimely awakening of the Goddess) is what has captured the popular imagination. Durga Puja or Sharod Utsav is the biggest festival in Bengal and the East.

This year, however, the Goddess seems to have lost her usual enthusiasm for her annual earthly sojourn.  As she packs her bags with her best saris and jewellery listlessly her husband Lord Shiva enters the bedroom.

Shiva: Is everything all right with you Devi? You are usually so excited about these annual trips?

Durga: My Lord I do enjoy my earthly sojourns, but of late I have started feeling its more pomp and show and the real spirit is missing. So much money is spent on huge pandals built on innovative themes, elaborate light work, decorations and loud music. But not enough attention is paid to the pujo, following the rituals and the traditions. I miss those simple ek chalar pujo (the idols of Durga and her children in one simple frame). People would make idols with clay and natural colours and adorn with shola (milky-white sponge-wood). I yearn for the beats of dhak and kashor, the deep blow of the conch. This loud music played on the music system is deafening. I can’t even smell shiuli phul (night flowering jasmine) in most places.

Earlier, before my arrival, the ground used to be strewn with shiuli phul. I hardly see those plants anymore. My pujo was mostly performed in households and women of those houses would get up very early to make all the preparations and to cook an elaborate bhog. There would be lotus, shiuli and so many other flowers. Dhakis would compete with each other, everyone would participate in dhunochi dance in those simply decorated pandals. The whole community would get together for my pujo.

Now women have no time to get into all these. They just get dressed and come to the pandal. Everything else is outsourced. People are more interested in eating rolls, chops and biriyani than bhog.

Durga sighed and sat on her bed.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear I agree a lot has changed. Not many people have the time to perform elaborate pujo or even offer Anjali to you. They are too busy with their day-to-day lives, their jobs. Life is more complicated now than it used to be a few decades ago. But no matter what, your pujo infuses a spirit of festivity and celebration. Regardless of how busy these people are, they take time to visit you in new clothes, forget their worries and look forward to the future with optimism and hope.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

And if you look closely you will observe a lot of positive changes, especially in women. Most women today are well educated, have a good job. They are conquering outer space, running companies, performing lifesaving surgeries. They are the very manifestation of your shakti. They may not have time to perform all the rituals of the pujo but they worship you with their spirits. Be it a pandal in Kolkata or Agartala or Gurgaon, women still gather to dance to the tune of dhak or perform dhunochi dance in a traditional manner.

The potters of Kumartuli and light artisans of Chandannagar wait eagerly for your arrival every year. Their bread and butter depend on you. With so much buying, selling and festivities you infuse positivity, you symbolize hope.

Durga: What you are saying is true. Not that I mind all the glitz and the glamour that is associated with pujo now. But with so much technology I sometimes miss the real connection. Even after coming to my Pandal people are glued to their phones. They are more interested in taking their selfies and videos with me and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. They are so governed by social media likes.

Look at our children, these trips to the earth have got them addicted to social media. Ganesha is forever showing off his wisdom on Twitter and Karthik can’t stop posting pictures on Instagram. I am told he’s trying Tik Tok now, our Karthik wants to be a Tik Tok celebrity. Lakshmi is hooked to online shopping and Saraswathi is doling out knowledge capsules on Facebook. They are preoccupied with their phones and ipads; they don’t even have time to talk to me anymore.

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Shiva: My dear social media is a form of communication now; it is a good way to connect with the youth. But I do agree this generations’ focus on social media is excessive and they need to strike a balance. Maybe our children, through their posts, is trying to help them achieve this balance.

Durga: Also look at all the artificial, colours, chemicals and POPs used for my idols. Look at the pollution they are causing. My heart bleeds to see what’s happening to Ganga, Yamuna and the other water bodies. They are choking, they are dying.

Shiva: On that, I entirely agree with you. But I am also hopeful they will change their ways before it’s too late. They have already started talking about environment-friendly idols and natural colours.

Durga: They better change soon, or they will witness your thandav, maha pralay.

Shiva: Go give them the strength and the wisdom to change for the better.

Durga: Yes dear, you are right. Mankind has indeed achieved a lot. Instead of focusing on their mistakes might as well inspire them to build a better future.

Durga gets up and starts packing eagerly. Mahadev smiles, bows at her and leaves the room.

Interesting titbits

How Ganesha outwits Karthik – shared by Puja

Narada delivers a mango from Lord Brahma to Lord Shiva for his son – it’s no ordinary mango, one who eats it would gain knowledge and wisdom. Lord Shiva is faced with a dilemma as both his sons want the mango. To solve this Shiva, after consulting Durga, decides to hold a competition between his two sons – whoever finishes circling the world thrice first will win the mango. Go getting Karthik immediately sets out on his peacock. Plump Ganesha on his rat stands no chance.

Witty Ganesha requests his parents to sit together and circles them thrice with folded hands and then demands the mango. “My parents’ are my world,” says Ganesha. Touched, Shiva hands him the mango.

Tridevi

Photo courtesy Sanjay Kumar Roy

Durga Puja marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting buffalo asura, Mahishasura, epitomising the victory of good over evil. As per Bengali traditions, Durga visits her natal home with her children – daughters Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and music) and Ganesha (the god of wisdom and good beginnings), and Kartikeya (the god of war).

In Shaktism, Durga or Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati are the manifestations of goddess Yogmaya also known as Adi Parashakti. Durga represents the transformational power of divinity, the power that dissolves the multiplicity of the Hindu gods into their unity. She is the direct incarnation of Adi Parashakti.

According to Vishnu Purana, Lakshmi is the daughter of Sage Bhrigu and Khyaati and consort of Lord Vishnu. In Rigveda, Saraswati a river also personifies the Goddess, she is the consort of Lord Bhrahma. Goddess Durga is Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Saraswati in her mild form – the Tridevi.

Childhood memories of invoking Goddess Saraswati

ma saraswati

Of all the Pujos that used to be celebrated at home during my childhood, Saraswati Pujo was perhaps the most awaited. Children of the family would collect donations from elders’ a week or so before the Pujo. We would then sit with our grandmother and mother to make a list of things required for the Pujo, right from rice, dal, fruits, gur, muri, chire (chirva), flowers, etc. Then started the shopping, every day after school, supervised and accompanied by elders of course. Usually our youngest uncle would guide the gang of cousins to the right shops. Advantages of growing up in a joint family, company of cousins made every occasion so much more fun, and indulgent uncles & aunts forever shielded us and gave in to our demands!

idols of SaraswatiOn the evening before the Saraswati Pujo, we would make a small pandal in our courtyard with my mother’s and aunts’ yellow saris and strings of yellow marigold flowers. Saraswati Pujo, also known as Basanti Pujo, falls on the day of Basant Panchami that marks the arrival of spring. Bright yellow happens to be the Goddess’s favourite colour. Going to the market to pick up an idol used to be another important task of that evening. I still remember walking through the lanes with so many magnificent idols of Vac Devi displayed by the potters, in different sizes and styles. The clam expression and the benevolent smile was however the hallmark of every idol of the fair goddess. After much deliberation, we would pick up an idol that would appear to smile benignly upon us. It was perhaps our childish fantasy, or perhaps a sense of connect with the divine that we felt then!

kashorOn reaching home with the Goddess we would proudly announce our arrival. Goddess Saraswati would be ushered in with the blow konch and the beat of kashor and placed respectfully on the vedi made for her worship. As the ladies of the house would busy themselves in the kitchen preparing naru (nariyel laddu), moa (laddu made of murmura and jaggery), khoier upra (sweetened parched paddy) etc., we would gather around the pandal finishing the decorations and placing our books & pens at the Goddess’s feet. Saraswati Pujo day was one of those rare days when we were forbidden to open our books (that made the day very special for us). On that day, we would invoke the Goddess of knowledge to grant us eternal wisdom.

On the morning of the Pujo, we girls would line up before pandal in yellow saris (borrowed from mom and aunts, tied over tops & t shirts). An elaborate bhog would be laid out before the Goddess – kichdi, labra (mixed vegetable), fried vegetables, puri, sabzi, kheer, moa, naru, fruits, sweets etc. Ber, khoi (parched paddy) & curd, a few items without which the Pujo is considered incomplete, would be placed before the Goddess. In fact, as kids we were not allowed to eat ber before Saraswati Pujo. We were told that we would do miserably in our exams if we didn’t listen.  A thakur moshai or Panditji would come to perform the Pujo. On Pujo days Panditjis’ were in high demand and needed to be pre-booked.

After the Pujo we would all sit down to have the prasad, starting with khoi & curd and ending with tomato chutney, kheer and other sweets, what a feast that was. Somehow the same items cooked on regular days never tasted as delicious.

Having been away from home for a while, the fervent excitement that I once felt during Saraswati Pujo is just a fond memory. Since all the children are away, my mother now does a very small Pujo at home. An elaborate Saraswati Pujo is performed at my sister’s place for the sake of my nephew. A single child, with cousins in other cities, my nephew will never know the fun and the excitement of participating whole-heartedly in Saraswati Pujo with siblings and gang of cousins!