Thursday, October 7, 2010

Our Lady of the ten hands

Ya devi sarbabhute.......Like me many young ones might have woken up to cold mornings of bath and cursing the fact that the old man on the radio is back. But perhaps once this insanity of sleepless grumbles are over and done with, the magnificence of the biggest of festivities hits us with a bang! To most of us who grew up to these chants, even today listening to the recorded version of Birendra Krishna Bhadra welcoming the ten handed Devi in all her splendor on Mahalaya gives us that eerie feeling that is a part of every Bengali’s nostalgia associated with Durga Puja. Natural perhaps, yet when the Goddess decides to descend on us for a while and shower us all with her blessings, each of us associate her with the little small things that Durga Puja has come to mean to us.
Interestingly, the start of Durga Puja is not as much about religion, as it is about the celebration of good over evil. Though mostly celebrated by Bengali Hindus world over, the festival assumes a carnival like fanfare in Kolkata. History has it that the elaborate Puja of Durga in Bengal started off with a gesture of thanks by Lord Clive after his victory in the battle of Plassey in 1757 in the house Puja of Nabakrishna Deb in Sovabazar. The industrialization of Bengal has also had a great impact on the celebrations becoming bigger and grander. The elite of Bengal used the occasion of Pujo to better their public relations, this of course later translated into a community feeling of oneness that one finds today in the celebrations.
In the waft of the October breeze when the nose itches for the smell of Shewlis in the morning, seeing them lying beneath the tree in a resplendent white carpet is the belief that Pujos are but a corner away. With the coming of autumn, small idol makers all over Bengal are busy giving shape to the Goddess who brings with her peace and the expectation of happiness for the inhabitants of the earth. As day after day the loving shape of the idol takes birth, whether in the age old tradition of ‘daker saj’ or the more innovative eco friendly Durga idols of today, the various dimensions to pujo begin. Whether in the preparations for the familiar sound of Dhak and Dhunuchi nachh or the buying of new clothes, Durga Puja brings with it the incredible flavor of the new and the expectant. If you are in Kolkata these preparations become many times manifold and the city comes in the grip of its biggest festivity in bringing the Goddess home.
To many of the generation next who do not understand much of the Chandi path or the rituals, the fervor of the Pujo itself is a joyous occasion enough to celebrate. Most of us have fond memories of the gifts one would get or the functions in which one would participate during Pujo festivities, or even the Bhog prashad that one would eat, yet perhaps not much about the actual Pujo they understand. For them perhaps the actual Puja is a small part of the importance of Durga in their lives, but the all benign Devi is happy in the happiness that surrounds her coming too, for that is the essence of her homecoming. And yet as I look back upon my teenage years of Durga Pujo, it was all this and more, ‘Sandhi Pujo’ with its 108 lights was mystery personified, the ‘Sindur Khela’ of married woman on Dashami day was the colors of happiness, the immersion of the Idol a frenzy of human activity leading to Devine realization of Karma, that from dust to dust we shall settle and yet perhaps remain. The ‘Hom’, performed by the Brahmins during the actual Pujo held sanctity divine, the sound of the dhak was like homecoming and the flowers of Anjali a three day must. In the happiness and flurry that Pujos often signify, there are perhaps many a young ones who still do not understand the significance of the Devi and her ten avatars or her symbolic killing of Mahishashur and yet they have moist in the eyes when she is immersed. The dhunuchi shall perhaps dance no more and the dhup and Shewlis wait for another year. Yet, still there is hope amidst the home coming that the lady with the ten hands shall bless and bring Joy this year too as she has done over the years…… Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah…