Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
It is autumn, “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, as poet Keats said. Of all the seasons it is the most lovable one. The scorching summer has finally left us to our immense relief. The days are still hot but we do not see the blazing fury of the sun any more. Now with the onset of the autumnal sky, the slight nip in the breeze spells relief, or even therapy, for drudgery. For us autumn also implies the approaching Durga Puja festival. It is time for Goddess Durga to visit her parental home, along with her celebrated offspring. The home coming of the Mother Goddess makes us feel the ecstasy of the spiritual mingling with the material. The visit she makes every year brings hope, joy and peace to her countless devotees.
According to the almanac, the Goddess is coming by riding an elephant, which apparently implies abundance of crops and she will be going back by boat, which is also said to be good sign for harvest. So luck apparently is with us. That is a great thing for us, anyway. All these years we have been suffering and our misery is full to the brim and spilling over. Possibly a few more knocks will not matter, not much anyway. Yet it is not the time to wallow in sorrow. We get only a few days to enjoy and forget everything else. But this joy of four days is worth a lifetime of misery.
Durga Puja is a festival of joy, but it is not unmitigated enjoyment as we have to cope with various groups of young men, coming for subscription from diverse localities. We have to oblige them otherwise they get belligerent. Well, we have to accept evil along with the good, as we cannot possibly refuse to pay. There is nothing voluntary about it and we do it most reluctantly, which does punch huge holes in our purse. It is not really donation, it is extortion.
Durga puja implies shopping at large. It is fun to go shopping to buy gifts for friends and relatives. It is obligatory to buy new clothes, even if we have to spend more than we can afford. Hence in spite of the fear of all these bomb blast, and terrorist attacks, all roads are leading to Fancy Bazar, once the fanciest market with the fanciest prices of the goods. At present Guwahati can boast of several shopping malls, mega markets and fashionable shops, displaying the most glamorous collections. Quite a few trading firms have opened their branches in this city of ours. You can have delicious sweets and various food items, fruits, children’s toys, costly ornaments, shoes, and the latest creation of fashion houses and everything you need under the same roof. We get all the things in the city, which were available only outside our state till a few years back. But now they are all here we have only to step out houses to reach them. If you have sufficient amount of money, you can get anything you fancy in our own city. But there lies the snag. Not all of us can afford such costly things. Of course there is a ray of sunshine. Some of this shopping centres offer various gifts, if you buy from them things above a certain amount.
But despite the existence of all these glamorous mega marketing centres almost at our door step, shopping remains incomplete without a visit to fancy bazar. No doubt, its importance has diminished through the years, but it has not lost its charm, at least for the old-timers like us. Fancy bazar has become a hub of feverish activities with the increasing number of puja shoppers. One does not have to walk; he will be pushed to his destination by the surging mass of humanity. The hawkers have already occupied the pavements and half the road. They sell almost everything under the sun and these stalls are thronged mostly by the people from then economically backward section. It is the tradition that everything, rich or poor, must wear new clothes in this season of joy. We have no option even if we are short of money. One cannot dream of wearing the same worn-out old dress during the Pujas.
It is very pleasant to buy gifts for our friends and relatives. The happy faces of the receivers of the gifts are all the reward we need. We do not have regrets for spending more than we can afford, even if we have to survive on dry bread and water for the rest of the year. After all Durga Puja comes only once in a year and we have every right to buy whatever we please without counting rupee we spend. Let us have as much as we can, for tomorrow may not come. Future is uncertain and we know only about the present. Future will look after itself and we do not have to bother about it. Actually women love to go for shopping, though men do not appear to be enthusiastic about it. Shopping of course is no fun without bargaining and here the women decidedly have an edge over the men. They love to haggle over the price with the determined traders, though the men do not take kindly to the notion.
Durga Puja is a veritable theatre festival and every locality has something to express or reveal. Depending on the message, which could be historical or socio-political, the ambience varies according to the theme. The festival has proved beyond doubt its potential to depict diverse subjects in a stunning exercise of creativity. We must not forget the ingenuity of behind the scene artists, whose nibble fingers could create such exquisite images. These artisans remain unappreciated and unrecognised, though without them Durga Puja would not have been possible.
The pujas witness a kind of thematic frenzy. A majority of them are craft-based, while the rest are subject-oriented or concept-oriented. Some of them present a rustic charm on account of their simplicity. Experimentalism is the trend of this age and it is having a field day with imagination running riot. The decoration is apparently the most crucial part, as the attraction lies in the splendor. This is the age of awe and admiration immediate and effective. The thirst for accolades is reigning supreme among the organisers of different pujas. Competitiveness is the rule where once sincerity prevailed. In this season one’s emotions, ambitions, hopes and budgets all run high. This festival once again reasserts what the Hindu scriptures silently remind us that everything is transient and that joy and sorrow go together the joy of Sasthi when the Goddess enters Navapatrika to the sad farewell on the Dasami day, when ‘Bisarjan’ takes place. Still for us this annual festival has a sense of continuance, and we hopefully wait for the next year.
In Durga Puja we feel the ecstasy of coming into contact with the ever loving spiritual mother. The mornings are reserved for worshipping the Goddess. Devotees, mostly women, throng diverse Puja Pandals to offer ‘Anjali’ to the Mother Goddess. This is the time when chaos and passions prevail, while the reason goes out of the window. Even an otherwise graceful and sophisticated lady turns into a veritable termagant in her struggle to get into the front line to make floral offering. At such times tempers run high and nerves get frayed, since we tend to forget that we do not have to come nearer to the Goddess to be noticed by her. She needs nothing from us except sincerity and devotion.
The evenings are meant for pandal hopping and we make our way through a solid mass of humanity to have a look at the diverse glamorous presentations in various puja venues. Small stalls emerge overnight catering for the multitude. The balloons, toys and various playthings attract the children in holders but they are so brittle that they may not reach home in one piece.
There are so many puja mandaps in the city that it is near impossible to visit each one of them. We gape at the magnificent decorations and the exquisite idols in awe and wonder. Four days are too short for the puja revelers, but one has to accept her departure philosophically. All good things come to an end sometimes and in this farewell there is the thought that the Goddess would come again next year.
Durga Devi demonstrated the victory of good over evil by slaying Mahisasura, the epitome of evil. She comes to the earth each year to exemplify the same norm. She played one Mahisasura, whose physical characteristics clearly indicated that he was a demon. But possibly the demon dynasty did not become extinct after the death of Mahisasura. In this ‘Kalijuga’ thousands of Mahisasuras have swamped this good earth of ours and the problem is that they are unrecognisable. Their sleek mannerism and sophisticated exterior conceal their true nature. They are the majority and even the Goddess may not recognize them. We all have evil propensities. We may not find a single good person even if we scour the entire length and breadth of the earth. It might be a very hard task even for the Goddess to destroy all the evil forces.
Now we are steeped in corruption up to our necks. We do not really deserve the divine mother’s love and blessings, since we have not discarded evil forces till now. Murder, corruption, dishonesty, extortion and other evil forces have caused heroic in this good earth of ours. In the process we have lost our humanity. It is a wonder that the Mother Goddess has not yet abandoned us to our fate. We all want her blessings and foolishly hope to please her with the offerings of gold, silver and money. But we forget that she does not need our offerings.
We can only hope and pray that she would forgive us for our sins and help us in mending our ways. Let our sins be washed away by her blessing and the world regain peace and happiness, for which it was created. With her blessing and good will we would surely be able to cultivate the finer attributes of life in order to pave the way to happiness and regain our lost humanity. That is the true significance of Durga Puja.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)