The 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like most Bengalis Durga Puja is the festival I look forward to, or at least I did then as a girl in Agartala. Puja vacations were the most awaited vacations, four days sans studies, only pandal hopping and showing off our new clothes. Yes, we were given at least one new dress for each day, in fact that was the only time in the year when we were given new clothes (except may be birthdays). Mostly our moms stitched our clothes, we knew nothing about brands, couldn’t dare ask our parents for branded clothes even when awareness grew.
Back then the anticipation and the excitement of Durga Puja was built days in advance, with the first bloom of shiuli phool (night jasmine/coral jasmine) or the first site of a puja pandal being constructed. We would happily watch white autumn clouds float in clear blue sky and eagerly wait for the festivities to begin. Every house had a shiuli plant then and the ground below the plant would be strewn with sweet smelling flowers in the morning. As a girl I would pick up those flowers and string them into a garland, my most coveted morning task as long as the flowers bloomed.
There would be a puja pandal coming up in every corner, special sale and discounts were announced in every shop. That was the time when we would start bargaining with our parents for new clothes, shoes, pocket money during puja days etc. As kids it was a matter of great pride to have earned more newbies than your friends and peers during puja.
Mahalaya that announced the advent of Goddess Durga was a very significant occasion. AIR would play Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s “Mahisasura Mardini” or “The Annihilation of the Demon” very early in the morning. In my excitement and eagerness to not miss the Mahalaya recital I would hardly get any sleep the night before. None of the modern editions of Mahalaya that now come in various TV channels match Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s magic.
Puja days were spent at my maternal grandparents’ place as they performed Durga Puja every year. I remember waking up as early as my grand mom and other ladies of the house, towing them as they rushed through the elaborate preparations of Devi puja. Children were sometimes allowed to gather flowers, a job that was performed with much pride.
In the evening we would go pandal hopping. As Agartala is a small place we could even walk from one pandal to other, buy mutton chops or rolls from roadside vendors outside the pandal. Visiting the maximum number of pandals was kind of a competition. Pandals even then where very well decorated and lit. Some of the well known pandals got idols from Kumortuli and light decoration from Krishnagar, but they were nothing compared to the fancy hi-tech pandals of today.
Smell of shiuli and dhuno (camphor), sound of dhak (type of drum), dhunichi dance are strongly associated with my memories of Durga Puja. We could hear dhak through the day from every nook and corner. Dhakis (dhak players) would go from house to house playing for a small sum. Even in Agartala most houses don’t have shiuli plant anymore, dhakis are making way for more hi-tech music!
Having stayed away from home for years I really miss the flavour and the spirit of Pujo. Durga Puja days are usual working days here, though I make it a point to wear a sari everyday and visit a Pandal in the evening. CR Park in Delhi almost replicates Kolkata during Pujo but somehow falls short of the frenzy and the excitement, or maybe is just me missing my childhood Pujo!