I look forward to three insane events every year. In no particular order, they are: my birthday, New Year's eve and the five-day long festival of Durga Puja.
“Is your Puja shopping done?” I asked Sas, one of the dozen Bengali girls in my class. I adore the girl, because, with her, it's almost as if everyday is Durga Puja.
“No, barely,” Sas responded glumly. “I still have so many clothes to buy.”
“Care to explain that a little?” Gigi joked.
“Alright, alright, I bought a few clothes,” Sas admitted.
“By few you mean seven,” Gigi added.
This is one of the reasons why Durga Puja is Durga Puja.
Goddess Durga is the most popular incarnation of Devi and is one of the main forms of Goddess Shakti in the Hindu pantheon. The name, Durga, translates into “the inaccessible” or “the invincible”. The festival was introduced in my state by the Ahom rulers thousands of years ago. (Little known mythological tidbit: Lord Rama, the hero of the epic 'Ramayana', was a devotee of the Goddess. Before going to war against the demon king, Ravana, he had invoked the blessings of the Goddess who had blessed him with the secret knowledge on how to kill Ravana. On the day of 'Ashvin Shukla Dashami', Rama and his army rescued Sita and defeated Ravana.)
I was taking a walk with Ira the other day and we came across several huts of artisans in the process of creating the murtis (idols) of the Goddess and her children. They were nowhere near being completed but the sheer sight of the tall structures standing in all their glory, was overwhelming. Even the structure of the demon and the buffalo were being made with passion and sincerity.
“I can barely wait,” I admitted.
Ira laughed, “I know, the days are seemingly getting longer instead of shorter, aren't they?”
She was right and she knew it. Every day seemed to be dragging by.
The entire process of the creation the murtis (idols) is sacred. Right from the collection of clay to the ornamentation of the Goddess. Arguably the most important event is the painting on of the eyes of the Goddess (and her children). Starting with the Goddess, the eyes of the idols are painted on 'Mahalaya' or the first day of the festival following several rites and rituals. The artisans fast for a day before this event and eat only vegetarian food. The three eyes or 'Triyambake' (three eyed Goddess) represent different things: the left eye represents desire (the moon), the right eye represents action (the sun) and the eye represents knowledge (fire).
Ira stopped to look at a festival-advertisement on a billboard. They were giving 15% off apparel on occasion of the festival.
“She's just so beautiful,” she said, marveling at the photo of the Goddess on the billboard. “No mortal can match her beauty.”
Ira was a little different than all my friends. She was a thinker and I appreciated that about her.
“You come pretty close to matching it,” I smiled at her.
The smile she flashed back almost rivaled the Goddess's. We stood there, smiling at each other, under the eyes of the Goddess, in the crisp October breeze.
The Goddess's vehicle is a lion. It represents power, will and determination. The Goddess riding the lion symbolises her mastery over all three of the qualities. This suggests to the devotees that one has to possess all three qualities to get over the demon of ego. The Goddess also has eight or ten arms. This represents eight quadrants or ten directions in Hinduism. This symbolises she protects her devotees from all directions.
“Oooh, look at these earrings,” Ira gushed, taking a pair of neon green, long, cat shaped earrings in her hands. We were at the accessories section of a large store and were expecting to get shoved and pushed around by the insane number of shoppers who were looking for clothes to wear during the festival. Not only clothes, let me say. Shoes, belts, earrings, basically – everything.
“They're amazing,” I said. “I'm going to get these. An ode to the Goddess's lion through his younger brother, the cat.”
Ira laughed, “That fits.”
I flipped through other colours of the earrings; they were in orange, yellow, pink and blue. But I was always biased when it came to green. It was my favourite colour, for crying out loud.
I must say, my earrings garnered a lot of attention at the check-out counter. Adults and kids alike stopped to look at the earrings, some wondering how they didn't spot them, some wondering why I would pick out cat earrings. Ira swirled her fingers around my earrings, jokingly warding away all the evil eyes they received.
Goddess Durga is seen holding different weapons in each of her ten hands along with a lotus and a conch. Each of the weapons have significance. The conch shell in her hand represents the mystic word 'Om' which indicates her holding on to God in the form of sound. The lotus is not fully-bloomed which symbolises the certainty of success but not finality. The bow and arrows represent energy; by holding both in one hand she indicates control over both kinds of energy – kinetic and potential. The thunderbolt indicates firmness, destroying whatever is its way without getting harmed itself. The 'Sudarshan chakra' or beautiful discuss spins around her index finger in one of her hands and it signifies that the entire world is subservient to her will and is at her command. The sword in one of her hands symbolises knowledge, for knowledge is as sharp as the sword itself; knowledge which is free from all doubts is symblosied by the shine of her sword. The trishul (trident) which is the primary weapon of the Goddess – gifted to her by her consort, Lord Shiva – represents 'Satwa' (inactivity or ideal state of mind characterised by awareness and purity of thought), 'Rajas' (activity or energy associated with desires, wishes and ambitions) and 'Tamas' (lethargy and stress).
“Is she wearing red eyeliner?” Gigi asked me, about one of the pretty girls in our class. She belonged to the LEPG (League of Extraordinarily Pretty Girls), according to our stats.
I glanced quickly at the pretty girl and nodded, “Looks like it. I love red eyeliner or eyeshadow.”
“Are you serious? I thought she had conjunctivitis.”
“Yeah, that's the look you tend to aim for with red liner anyway.”
Shree came screeching near our desk, huffing, “I couldn't find anything when I went out shopping yesterday. I was literally crying in my car!”
Gigi looked exasperated, “Try something more ethereal this time.”
“I tried to look for ethnic clothes but I am too fat to bloody find anything my size!”
“Well, you can't expect to look like Deepika Padukone, can you, in one day?” Gigi roared, not holding back any words.
“That's not what I am saying at all,” Shree said and looked my way. I shrugged. I was in no mood to defend her and battle a serpent tongued Gigi.
“You could always just shop online,” Sas suggested, turning around. “It's what I did.”
“Yeah, there's that too,” Gigi said. “The world hasn't ended yet.”
Shree seemed exhausted. “There's not one site left.”
“Well,” I calmly began to speak. “It is bloody festival time, you can't expect the sites and stores to keep clothes back for you, hoping you'd show up and buy everything.”
“This is very stressful,” Shree finally said, with emphasis.
Mythological story will be inserted here, read if you want to feel good. Or if you're an avid reader, or even a fan of mythology and such things:
' After the death of Tarakasur by Shiva's son Kartikeya, the demon brothers Rambh and Karambh came on the throne. Their mother Danu instructed them to do penance and obtain desired boons. Hence, Rambh and Karambh did penance to please Agni and Varun (Fire/Water) respectively. Rambh started doing penance in Agni chakra whereas Karambh was being half immersed in river water while doing penance. Lord Indra took disguise of a crocodile and killed Karambh while Rambh successfully comepletely his penance and got a boon from Agni that he will obtain an extremely powerful son, who will rule over the three worlds in this universe. Rambh fell in love with Mahishi (buffalo woman) and got married to her. Mahishi soon got pregnant by Rambh. Once her lover, a Mahish, tried to abduct her. Rambh came in forefront to protect his wife. It happened so that Rambh got killed by the Mahish. In the cremation process of Rambh, Mahishi jumped into the fire, to sacrifice her life to express her love for her husband. Hence, Yama was stopped from taking away the soul of Rambh. Hence, Rambh got retained into the womb of Mahishi. Hence, from cremation fire, emerged two demons namely Rakthbeej (rebirth of Rambh) and Mahishasur (the child of Rambh). Mahishasur also did penance and obtained a boon from Lord Brahma, that he wont be killed by any man. Mahishasur thought that he has obtained immortality indirectly by this boon as according to him, a lady would never be able to kill a powerful demon like him. At the same time, while Mahishasur was doing penance, Parvati too started with a penance to get rid of her dark complexion, which was developed over her fair skin, due the penance she had done to obtain Lord Shiva as her husband. While she was engrossed in her penance, Shiva came up to her and washed off her face with the water of Ganga (Ganges), due to which, Parvati's dark complexion shedded from her and got accumulalted over the plants present there. In this way, Parvati justified her name Maha Gauri. The very place where she had shedded her dark complexion was the place, where Rishi Katyayan's wife used to do gardening and used the same plantations for cooking purpose. In course of time, Narayani got pregnant. At the same time, Mahishasur reached the peak of evilness by mercilessly killing human beings, who were doing worship of gods. All the Gods including Indra, Varun, etc. and also Shiva and Brahma gathered at the Vishnu's realm to seek help from the protector of the world as to what could be done. Lord Vishnu (protector) instructed all the gods to combine their powers. The combination of the powers of all Gods including Trinity, Indra, etc. fell upon Mars. The planet Mars directed that combination of that powers to Katyayan's child who was about to take birth, as it's ruling planet was Mars. Narayani gave birth to a girl who was named as Katyayani being the daughter of sage Katyayan. She was the incarnation of Mahalakshmi as she had the powers of all Gods and those powers were nothing but brightness and the beej mantra was 'Hreem'. She was so powerful and independent that as she grew up, she started living in the forest Madamba Kadamba. The only thing that was missing was beauty as she was born from the dark cell of Parvati. But as she grew up, all the Gods started praying to her (Mahalakshmi) and gathered near her. The Sea God presented her various ornaments, jewelery, beautiful look, a beautiful crown to wear. All the Gods presented her with the clone of their weapons like Lord Vishnu gave a clone of his discus, Lord Shiva gave trident, etc. In this way, she had to develop eighteen hands to hold all the weapons presented by various male Gods. Hence, she came to be known as eighteen-handed Mahalakshmi. Himavan, father of Parvati, present a Lion to Goddess Katyayani to ride upon. Soon the battle between Goddess Katyayani and demons army started. She created the same number of female warriors to fight the male demons army. Finally, her army won over the demon army and Katyayani herself killed many demons like Shichsur, Asiloma, Vidhan, Vashkaal, Ugrasen, Ramchandi etc. Finally, Mahishasur came in forefront to battle the Goddess. Mahishasur failed to battle with goddess without using his supernatural powers, which he had to use. Finally he kept changing form from lion to elephant to buffalo. At last, Goddess removed ornaments, removed all pure attributes and transformed into Chandi (with ten arms, not eighteen) and killed Mahishasur. She promised all the Gods mainly Indra that she will reappear at the time, when they needed her again. Afterwhich, she fused back into Parvati's body. '
“This is fantastic,” Gigi said.
“Oh my god, Jaya will be at my Puja,” Ana exclaimed, irritated. “I won't be going there till noon, problem solved.” She laughed at her own ingenuity.
Puja really does bring out the best and worst in people. Sas was raging on about how she'd dance on 'Dashami' all the way to the Brahmaputra and then go home and feast. Even Ana, being a Bengali, was enthusiastically counting the days.
The lights were almost all around the city; neon green, pink, yellow, orange lights, decorating and brightening the city and those who lived in it. The 'pandals' were almost finished and were standing tall in all their glory, against all the recent storms and damp and rainy weather.
“It really is almost here,” Ira said, smiling.
I breathed in the woody, sweet and fresh October air and smiled back. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
PS - These photos are from last year, in and around my lovely city.
PPS- Sadly, this year, I won't be in the city all five days of the celebration, so, this is an ode to my favourite festival of all time.
Wish you guys an amazing Durga Puja. Have a blast!
Until next time, take care.