By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
This is autumn—the most lovable part of the year. As poet Keats said, it is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun”. In this season ture is supposed to work overtime to fill the earth with delicious fruits, vegetables and lovely flowers. The sun’s intense rays have become milder, bringing the much-needed relief to the suffering humanity. The early dawns are delightful with a light mist enveloping the earth like a blanket, and the birds chirping and hopping around the garden. The whole atmosphere is magical, which fills the mind with joy and hope. None can remain in the dumps in this glorious season. The earth seems to be more colourful and joyous with ture appearing in all her grandeur.
Besides the tural beauty and bounty, autumn has a special significance for us. It is the scheduled season for the annual visit of Mother Goddess Durga Devi, who visits the earth in this season to demonstrate the triumph of good over the evil forces. This puja has been observed in this region for ages, though with the passage of time, man’s attitude and the mode of worship have somewhat changed. In our younger days puja meant a lot to us. We eagerly waited for the Goddess to arrive with her family. There was more sobriety and piety than pomp and grandeur. The idols were placed on the same background in close proximity and not in isolation from one another, as is the practice now. It did not need large amount of money to perform the pujas. The images were decorated in a simple manner and there was nothing gorgeous and expensive about them. Yet the event was not less exciting for us than they are now. We had all the fun in the world. In the absence of other forms of entertainment, the pujas were the big occasions for us to celebrate.
Now of course the situation is entirely different. It requires huge amount of money to perform the puja in style, and they also include fund-collection, partying, feasting, drinking, shopping and all that which reeks of money. About a couple of months before the arrival of the Goddess, puja committees are formed in diverse areas and young men in groups visit various homes to demand dotion from the hapless residents. There is nothing voluntary about it. It is not really dotion; extortion may be the proper me for this kind of fund-collection. They may get belligerent if you argue with them and refuse to meet their demands. Hence you have to pay through your nose just to get rid of them.
It is fun to go shopping and exchange gifts, as it is the season of loving and giving, though the exorbitant prices of everything do throw a damper on our exuberance. For the traders it is time to make big money by sackfuls, as everybody, rich or poor, needs new clothes at this time. But despite spending more than we can afford, we have no regrets, even though we may have to live on dry bread and water for the rest of the year. Now Guwahati can boast of several shopping malls, which can compete with any mega shopping centre in any city in the country. It is a pleasure to visit these gorgeous tastefully decorated shopping malls. You can get everything you need in these mega shopping complexes, though the price is prohibitive. Modern young people require the trendiest addresses. For the girls saris, mekhela chadars and even salwar-kameez have become outdated. They go for western dresses like jeans, skirts, shorts with tops of diverse designs. They get their choice in these ultra modern shopping centres. These young people strive to be “in” with the fashion and they would hate to be “out” of fashion.
Yet almost for all the people of the older generation shopping can never be complete without a visit to Fancy Bazar, once the fanciest market with the fanciest prices. Hence at the moment all the roads are leading to fancy bazaar. It is difficult to squeeze through that jostling mass of humanity. The pavements and half the roads have been taken over by the hawkers and apparently you can get whatever you need in these road-side stalls. They make the ideal shopping centres for the economically backward section, which forms the majority. The shopping malls and the other fashioble mega markets are patronized by the creamy layer of society. Well-dressed, well-made up, perfumed ladies in expensive jewellery, with children in tow, throng these sophisticated shopping malls.
It can be easily seen that the ladies love shopping, while the men accompanying them do not appear to be delighted at the prospect of spending hours in those stuffy overcrowded shopping malls. But the ladies enjoy these shopping sprees and bargaining over price has a special appeal for them, though the poor men accompanying them look decidedly embarrassed. Actually haggling over the prices adds spice to our shopping. Of course bargaining is possible only in the old-fashioned shops and the hawkers market. It is not possible in these modern shopping malls, where stiff-necked sales assistants may refuse to entertain such appeals. They may even freeze you with their contemptuous icy behaviour and your dignity will be in shreds. Hence I prefer to visit the old shops where I find some warmth and hospitality from the sales people, with most of whom I have been acquainted since a long time. I really believe in the adage that “Old is gold”.
All the shops seem to be chock-a-block with fashioble dresses bearing the tags of Paris, England, or Washington etc. The foreign mes draw the shoppers like magnet and they do not mind spending thousands on a phial of perfume or a dress with a foreign tag. Fancy Bazar and all the shopping centres are throbbing with activity and excitement. The hawkers are also doing very good business. Apparently they have mastered the trick of appearing and disappearing like the proverbial Jack-in-the-box. While dealing with customers they keep a wary eye on the long arms of law, which have the unpleasant practice of appearing at the most awkward times. The moment the law-keepers arrive, they vanish along with their merchandise before you can even blink. But the moment the coast is clear they reappear with the entire shop. Talk of Aladdin’s lamp!
At present the side issues like fund-collection, shopping, feasting etc have gained more importance than the real issue, that is, the arrival of the goddess. This year Durga Devi would arrive on the 20th October according to the almac, though preparations for her reception would start on the 19th October, which happens to be “Sasthi”. She will leave the earth on the 22nd October on her way to her heavenly abode. It seems that the ‘Astami’ and ‘vami’ puja will be held on the same day and hence the quick departure. It is sad that she would stay with us only for two days and would depart on the third day. I wish she had stayed on earth for another day at least. But perhaps she does not want to stay on the earth for a longer period as she is disgusted with the human race for their unbelievable cruelty, greed and other vices, which have made them lowest of the low species. And we cannot possibly blame Mother-Goddess for her anger with us. We have learnt from the almac that she would enter the “vapatrika” on 20th October and the pujas would start.
Apparently she would come riding a horse and would use a palanquin for her return journey. The wise people say that her mode of travel indicates prosperity or adversity, it has been gloomily predicted in the almac that both horse and palanquin ride implies disaster, famine and epidemics. We, the ordiry people have no idea about the veracity of these predictions. But we know that all sorts of disasters have pursued us all these years and we do not need an almac to tell us that we may have to face more ca1amity.hatever may be the mode of transport used by the deity we are more used to adversity than to prosperity. But at the moment there is joy all around us and that is what matters to us. The artisans are busy giving finishing touch to the images. When we go to the puja pandaLs to offer our obeisance to the Goddess; but we should not forget these makers of such exquisite idols, without whom our pujas would not be possible. These talented artisans deserve our gratitude.
According to legend, Durga Devi slew Mahisasura, the demon king, who terrorized the earth and destroyed the good. He was the epitome of evil. The Goddess demonstrated the triumph of good over the evil forces and she makes her symbolic visit to the earth each year to emphasize the point that goodness always wins. After Mahisasura’s death, the earth regained peace and all that was good.
But now the situation is entirely different. In that era there was only one Mahisasura, but now millions of Mahisasuras have littered the earth to terrorise humanity. The Goddess has not been able to vanquish them till now. She may not even recognize them. At least the origil one looked and acted like a demon, but his modem counterparts with their sleek appearance and refined manners are difficult to detect. They may shame even the origil Mahisasura in their acts of cruelty and they are more deceitful than him. It may be beyond the capacity of the Goddess to slay all of them, since that may lead to the extinction of entire humanity, as there are hardly any good men in the present era. Hypocrisy is the me of the game, and we may not find a true devotee, a good person even if we scour the entire length and the breadth of the earth. Yet each morning during the pujas, we go to worship Mother Goddess, the ‘Sakti’ incarte, with loads of flowers and stacks of currency notes, gold and silver. After making a hefty contribution, the guilty believes that all his guilt will be washed away. It is funny really! The Goddess has no wants and she wants nothing from us. It is sheer audacity on our part to think that the Goddess can be won over by showering gold, silver or cash on her. It shows how foolish we are.
In earlier times devotion and piety were more in prominence, while pomp and grandeur were entirely absent. But in modern times money power and extravagant display have come to the forefront, while sanctity and devotion have been given a back seat. We have lost the feeling of devotion and purity of mind in our quest for pleasure and artificiality. There seems to be an undeclared competition amongst the organizers as to whose display is the grandest. But Durga puja is neither a competition nor a fantasy. For the true devotees there is a spiritual feeling of closeness to the deity, which is a unique experience.
During the pujas the mornings are reserved for prayers and piety. Every puja mandap is thronged by a large number of devotees, mostly women, who assemble to offer “pushpanjali” (floral offerings) to the Goddess. What seems to be absent at such times are patience and restraint. You need grit and iron determition to hold your ground in the midst of that swelling crowd. Even the most sophisticated and mild lady may turn into a veritable termagant in that chaotic situation. There is this popular and irratiol belief that to catch the attention of the Goddess, you have to be in the first row and your floral offerings must fall at her feet. It is funny really— can you think of a more ridiculous notion? We often forget that what is necessary to please the Goddess in our sincere devotion. She can see everything everywhere, as the wise people say. One does not have to be in the front row to be in the range of her vision. The great saints have stated that the Goddess observes everything all around the world. Some people shower gold, silver and cash on her with the mistaken belief that the Goddess will bless them more than the others, who offer less. It is really an absurd and amusing concept. The Goddess wants nothing from us except sincerity, devotion and honesty.
Evenings and nights are meant for pandal-hopping and to gape at the magnificent lighting arrangements and decorations, and very likely to get stuck in a traffic jam for hours together. Guwahati during the pujas does not sleep for several days and nights. Balloons are the main attraction for the kids and during the pujas you see them in plenty, besides some fragile toys which may not reach home in one piece.
All said and done, it is the season of joy and goodwill and we may forget all our heart aches at least for a few days. And these three or four days’ happiness is worth a life time of misery. We are really lucky that in spite of all our sins, the Mother Goddess has not abandoned us to our fate till now. Each human being has divinity inherent in him or her, but greed and lust have pushed away the divinity into the darkest corner. Yet it is still there and we have the capacity to arouse that divinity in us. Durga Devi will be arriving soon with her message of the triumph of good over evil. It is our solemn duty to arouse the good in us, so that we can be worthy of living in this good earth which God created for the welfare of humanity. If we cannot do that our pujas would be in vain and all that money would go down the drain. Let us then worship the Mother Goddess to make us better human beings, to wash away our sins, so that the world gets back peace, for which it was created. Happy puja, dear reader! Let all of us live happily together.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)