Monday, 19 November 2007

Yaa devi sarvabhuteshu...

Durga puja is the most important festival of the Bengalis. However, ask a Bengali about the religious significance of the puja & most will flounder. For the average Bengali it is less of a religious occasion & more of a festive one. This is the time when, if you are in Calcutta, you can enjoy a four day holiday (except for the hapless software guys almost everyone enjoys the long holiday) & catch up with friends & relatives. In Calcutta, every para (locality) worth its salt organizes a community puja, the “Sarbojanin Durgotsav”. The pandals are constructed with a lot of care & creativity… some in the shape of the White House in Washington D.C., some as the Taj Mahal at Agra … or as the latest craze demands … the Hogwarts Castle that we have grown so familiar with, thanks to Harry Potter & his creator, J.K. Rowling. All this is created using simple things like bamboo, cloth, paper, shola (don’t know what it’s called in English), thermocol & so on. “Lighting” is another important aspect of the puja. “Lighting” is the name given to the glittering signs put together using small bulbs depicting scenes / events of importance. These events could be as simple as depicting the everyday life of the common village folk, or as complex as the goal scored by Maradona in the World Cup match, in full motion. Last but not the least, come the images of the Goddess & her children, Laxmi, Saraswati, Kartik & Ganesh. The images are so exquisite that there’s a common phrase in Bengali … Kumartuli’r bou … meaning a bride of flawless beauty comparing them with the idols of the Goddesses created by the artisans from Kumartuli. The creativity of all the skilled artisans who put their heart & soul into making these is absolutely amazing.

Like most Bengalis, my knowledge of the significance of the Puja is a little fuzzy but I still make an attempt to explain it here. It goes like this … the Demon king, Mahishasura was becoming very powerful & was bent upon destroying all the Gods & the Heaven. The Gods were doing their best to keep him at bay but were not very successful. So they decided to pray to Goddess Durga, the embodiment of Shakti, to save them from Mahishasura. The Goddess took one piece of arms from each of the Gods, like the Sudarshan Chakra from Lord Krishna, the Trishul from Lord Shiva & so on. Holding each of these in each of her ten hands, the Goddess fought valiantly & ultimately was able to slay the Demon king. This happened on the day of Mahalaya & this is also the day when the artisans of Kumartuli draw the eyes on the idols of the Goddess (Chakshudaan) every year. After this very momentous achievement of slaying Mahishasura, the Goddess makes a trip to the house of her parents along with her four children leaving Lord Shiva, her consort, in Mt. Kailasa. However, Lord Shiva watches over them from afar & so it is usual to see a picture of Lord Shiva above the idols in all the puja pandals. The five days that are celebrated as Durga Puja from Shashthi to Dashami are the five days that Maa Durga & her children spend with those of her own. On Dashami she goes back to the home of her husband leaving all of us, her parental relatives, in tears.

Durga Puja is celebrated all over the world, wherever at least ten Bengalis live. In the USA it is celebrated during one of the weekends which either comprise the actual days of the puja or are just around it. It’s the thought that counts, we believe. :-) It is celebrated with all its fanfare all over Europe & in almost all cities in India. Although we miss the creativity of the pandals and lighting in the pujas outside West Bengal, the Bengalis make it up with the cultural events organized in the evenings, the community feasts (bhog) and the adda (chat sessions, an inseparable entity of the quintessential Bengali) with friends.

So, with the chants of bolo Durga Mai ki jay (salutations to the Divine Mother) and ashchhe bochhor abar hobe (will see you again next year), I bid my farewell to you.


Anonymous said...

hmmmm... thats a nice intro to the puja... and a sorta tribute to the festive spirits of aamaar shonaar Bongabondhu... ;-)
Think a series of travelogues about places around Bangalore will be a boon for us poor non-enclyclopedians ;-)..

Piscean Angel said...

KP: he he he ... that shud hv been "aamar shonar bangla" but ... anyway they say it's the thot that counts. ;)
Tathastu ... on ur request of travelogues.