Friday, September 01, 2006


I heard from a friend that this time Goddess Durga is coming to visit us in a boat. I keep hearing various interpretations of her mode of travel which people use to predict the future. Maybe there is some amount of truth in it but that’s a topic to be researched later.

To me, the coming of the Goddess was signified by the fragrance of the 'shiuli' flower which blooms in the months of September and October. The flowers would bloom in the wee hours of the morning, spread their heady fragrance and intoxicates all around and then fall off by mid morning. I remember there was a 'Shiuli' tree in our garden which I used to shake and all these little flowers would rain on me. I would collect these flowers in my basket and place them in front of idols of Radha Krishna which belonged to my paternal Grandmother; it was a daily chore during the season.

The coming of the Goddess was also signified by examinations which would invariably fall in those days, I had two Mothers pulling me in two different directions, at one end my human earthly Mother ordering me to study while at the other end Mother Durga beckoned me to join the festivities. I managed to appease both; I studied diligently all day so I could go to the 'pujo pandal' in the nights.

Listening to the 'Mahalaya' telecast at 4 AM in the morning is another must, the mesmerizing and hypnotic voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the timeless songs still give me goose bumps when the tale of the Goddess Durga's victory over Mahishasur is told. The nippy morning air, the dewy silence of a world just about to wake up adds to the magic.

On the first day of the pujo we would go to the pandal and see the Goddess being adorned with jewels and all the weapons being placed in her ten hands while the dhakis (drummers) beat the drums in unison. Lunch was usually not cooked in any Bengali home in the vicinity and all would troop in to eat 'bhog' which is first offered to the Goddess and once she eats and approves, it is distributed to all who come irrespective of caste, creed and social standing. I would stand as close as I could to the drummers and stare into the all encompassing fierce but kind eyes of the Goddess and allow the drums to drive away the cobwebs from my mind and draw strength from the gaze of the Goddess, this is something I still do.

On the ninth day of Pujo - Navami, the lights of the pandal would be switched off, the only light would be from the 108 oil lamps which would be lit up, the smell and the smoke from the 'dhuno' would fill the air and the Dhakis would beat the drums with all their might while he priest performed the arati (worship) and finally the holy flame would be passed around so we could all place our hands over the flame and be blessed and lastly holy water would be sprinkled over all the bent heads in front of the Goddess by the priest.

I still remember the air of competition amongst friends over how many new dresses they got, the lazy afternoons where we sat around in circles after eating bhog and gossiping about people in general. Going back home to freshen up and then again dress up with more vengeance for the evening, the rehearsals for the dances and plays that we performed, the stage fright when we actually did, the bloopers of forgetting our lines, the endless goodies from the snacks counter, the yearly rounds to Kali Bari, Kashmiri Gate and Greater Kailash pujos, the budding romances, the beautiful ladies dressed in red and white silk garad saris, the men in crackling starched dhotis, the candy floss man, the bows and arrows, swords and clubs sold outside, my dear friend Rachita and her parents Pinu Aunty and Samir Uncle who made sure that the absence of my Father never affected me.

Durga Pujo in the A Block Defense Colony grounds was magical, somehow I haven't found that magic anywhere else, in Calcutta every corner has a Pujo and it’s too commercial. In Bombay its all about how many crores the Bengali associations spend to outdo the and somewhere the Goddess, the worship and belief are sidelined and forgotten, people head straight to the seating area to grab seats to see some famous artiste perform and then they head towards the food stall to fill their greedy stomachs while the beautiful Goddess in all her finery just gets a passing glance and a quick bow.

At times I wonder that the Goddess should enter our beings and kill the Mahishasur within us in forms of greed, hatred, lust and make better humans of us all.


eve's lungs said...

If u're in Kolkata do drop in at our para pujo- it fits your memories to a t . This year Sandhi pujo is at 10 pm - so the effect is sure to be magical with all the 108 diyas lit up ..

Nautilus said...

Reading your post reminded me of the song
Shiuli tola'y bhor bela'y
Kushum kura'y palli bala...

Very nostalgic recollection. Our para'r pujo was something like that...very homely, close knit! Its amazing that I didn't even realize when the most awaited festival of the year became "batsharik boredom" for me! Somewhere along the way pujo lost its charm...or may be I became too cynical :-)

ichatteralot said...

@Eve's Lungs: Which para?

@Nautilus: he only religion that rules these days is worship of wealth so I suppose somewhere down the line it has turned into a 'batsharik' for all of us...

M (tread softly upon) said...

How very nostalgic! I guess with Pujo drawing near there will be a flurry of posts on Pujo and memories of Pujo. And I'll miss it more with every post I read. Very nicely written.

Kausum said...

Brilliant post! Now I want to go back home for pujo! All bongs are only talking about pujo. Whether on blog, or on phones or emails or in person. Infact, here there is no shiuli but, you just know when the weather changes, and ur body's spiritual clock just knows that Pujo is near!

Shreemoyee said...

ya bombay pujo is about roping in film stars to perform or sing isnt it? specially the bandra and shivaji park ones.

Shreemoyee said...

hey, I just realised you are in LA now. hope you are having a good time.

Inkblot said...

and did you weave little garlands with the flowers? I used to. Seems a world away now- wonder if kids still do. Have a lovely festive season.

ichatteralot said...

@M: Yes - I guess t his proves that you can never take away Bengal from a Bengali!

@Kausum: Yes - tough we have all grown up but that air of excitement and anticipation is rather nice!

@Shreemoyi: You bet - its all about competing about who could net Hema Malini and Sonu Nigam. Even Vashi pujo has joined that club :(

I had a great time in LA but now I am back in amchi Mumbai :)

@Inkblot: Oh yes we did - with help from my great grand mother! And my work of art was usually for Shib who resided in all his porcelain glory in the wall almirah! Thanks, you have a great time too!