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Durga for a day

The arrival of Devi Durga brings back childhood memories and enlivens the thoughts of the bygone days.

Arundhati Banerjee
Thu, Oct 2 2014

Illustration: Rajat Dey

About Arundhati

A vagabond at heart, love of travel has taken me places and made me a wiser soul with an open mind to learn and respect the people and cultures that I have encountered along the way.
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Devi Durga’s Aagomoi (coming) always bring back a rush of childhood memories that make me nostalgic of the bygone days. It was marked by our annual family sojourn to the heart of India to Bilaspur, leaving behind a Kolkata which was draped with colour and costume and teeming with millions. Destination was my Grandpa’s home whom we affectionately called Dadu. He had been hosting Ma Durga’s annual homecoming since 1955.

Amidst the loud beatings of the dhak (type of drum used in the festival) and the beautiful white aalponas (auspicious drawings on the floor), the whole household in Bilaspur is caught up in a series of frenzied activity with pushpanjalis (flowral tributes), aaratis(lamp tributes), chanting of mantras and hymns, bhog and Prasad (food tributes) and dhunochi naach (dancing with a smoke emitting lamp). Children run up and down the long corridors in their festive best new clothes, adults adorn the latest trend in fashion of that year and the old sit around Goddess Durga with folded hands and bowed head in their crisp new saris and dhotis.

Sasthi, Saptami and Ashtami (auspicious 6th, 7th and 8th days) pass by with their usual gaiety and an interesting day dawns on Nabami (auspicious 9th day). I am all but 8yrs old. My romping around the festivities has been cut short by the announcement that I am to sit for ‘Kumari Puja’. It is that part of the ritualistic ceremony where a young girl is dressed as a beautiful bride and sat before the idol of Maa Durga and prayed to. It is believed that the soul of the Goddess descends into the girl and for that brief period she is Goddess incarnated. Every devotee waits eagerly for this puja and then their chance of touching her feet to seek her blessings.

Nervous and scared with all the attention, I try my best to wriggle out of this situation. But alas, it is not to be. The elders drape me in a beautiful new red sari with a gold border. Gold bangles fill up my hands up to my elbow. My neck feels heavy with 3 gold necklaces. A huge red bindi (dot) and chandan (sandlewood paste) is used to decorate my forehead. My hair is tied in a bun and over it is draped a red churni (veil). My feet are decorated with alta (red liquid) and I wear the loudest anklets. I sit with anxious anticipation of the oncoming centre stage ritual.

In the meantime, all preparations for the puja are made. I am taken to the pandal and sat in front of Maa Durga. By now a huge crowd has gathered and the purohit (priest) is already chanting mantras, bells are ringing and the dhaki (drummer) is beating his dhak to frenzy. I shake all over in nervousness but around me everyone is happy that they have seen the most beautiful avatar of Maa Durga. A long flower garland from Maa Durga drapes my already burdened neck. During the puja, the wobbly hands of the purohit adorn me with more tikkas (dots on the forehead), feed me sweets and places some more on my sweaty palms. I am showered with flowers and bael-pata (leaf of the wood apple or golden apple tree). My eyes close every time there is a sprinkle of Gangajal (water from the holy river Ganges) which is in abundance. Then he proceeds with the usual mantra chanting, aarati, bhog and finally finishes off by touching my feet for blessings as he has just seen Goddess Durga herself in me. This indicates that other devotees can now seek their blessings too. My cold shaky feet is touched by numerous and I am given a few rupees by each of them. When all is done, I rush away to change and count my morning’s earnings in a quiet corner. I am already Rs50 rich!! Everyone else is off to the next celebration while I revel in the feeling that I lasted the 2hrs without crying or fainting!!

Mother Goddess sure has her way with her devotees, even the youngest ones who know not much about the glorious ways in which she blesses them and spreads joy and happiness all around.

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Rajshekhar Banerjee (Friday, Oct 3 2014):
Really enjoyed reading it. Many memories come alive.
 

 

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