By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Lord Biswakarma arrived in the city on 18th September to a tumultuous welcome. The preparations for his puja have been going on since the beginning of September. The images were gorgeous and they were brought to the various pandals with due veneration. For their transport from the artisan’s workshop to various pandals trucks, rickshaws, autorickshaws, even push carts were used. But for himself he always arrives riding his trade mark elephant. The Lord was installed in various puja mandaps with great fanfare as before. The devotees as usual thronged the puja pandals, scattered all over the city. Lord Biswakarma seems to initiate the puja season every year. That is why the month of September is so dear to us.
This dapper god usually visits the earth on 17th September each year. But this year he has deviated from his usual scheduled date and he arrived one day late. Possibly he did it to give precedence to Lord Ganesha, who arrived on earth on the 17th September. Perhaps both the gods came to some decision regarding the alteration of the scheduled date. Anyway we had a bundle of double joy—as the people enjoyed both the days of Ganesh Chaturthi and Biswakarma puja. I think we are lucky to have both the pujas in such close proximity.
Lord Biswakarma is supposed to be the architect in the kingdom of gods. According to the legend he was the god, who built “Indraprastha’, the magnificent kingdom of the Pandavas. Apparently he built this gorgeous wonderful city from the ruins of ‘Khandavprastha”. This is as far as our knowledge goes regarding this architect god. Hence industry and scientific technology are closely linked with Lord Biswakarma. This scientific god probably does not have any faith on these doubtful almacs and seems to follow the western calendar. Apparently he has no time for dilly dallying. This year he came one day late on 18th September riding his majestic elephant and the very next day left the earth on his way back to his heavenly abode.
Like everything else Biswakarma puja has also gone through enormous changes through the years. Decades back Biswakarma was not considered as a very important god. Once he was such an insignificant deity that his arrival or departure did not even cause a ripple. People at large were neither aware of him nor were they interested. Frankly speaking he was unknown to the hoi polloi. He was supposed to be a poor man’s god hobnobbing with a bunch of mechanics and chauffeurs. Years back Lord Biswakan was worshipped by some chauffeurs, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, masons, plumbers and others like them. Different groups huddled together to pay obeisance to the deity in some dark corner or shed. The deity came and went without any fanfare.
In that age there was no industry worth the me and industrially Assam was miles behind other states. Today the picture is different. The country has progressed a lot in the industrial sector, though Assam has not made any noticeable progress in this sector, till now. Still in this scientific age, when the world is ruled by computers, machines and information technology Biswakarma has suddenly leapt into dizzy height. There has been no looking back for him. He has even left the goddess of learning Saraswati (who was once deemed as more important and popular) far behind in the ladder of power and popularity. It is indeed gratifying that this unnoticed and neglected god has at last maged to secure the recognition which he so richly deserves in this fast-moving world of ours. During the present era hundreds of pujas are performed in every nook and corner of the city as well as in other parts of the state. From the lowest to the highest, from the petty cobbler to the richest industrialist, everybody offers obeisance to the deity with the pious hope of getting more favour and heavy returns. Frenzied preparations for his puja continue for days together and we see everywhere brightly lit pandals being erected for his puja. Not only engineering and other technological institutes, but even a person with a type writer offers homage to the deity. Garages and famed institutes perform the puja in style. Hilarity and boisterousness continue from the pre-puja night to the post-puja day when immersion of the idols takes place.
There is no harm in observing religious rites, if they cleanse our hearts. Since we depend on gods for our welfare, it is only tural that we want Biswakarma’s blessings for being successful in any job that involves machineries. Hence the puja is no longer confined to chauffeurs or petty mechanics; rather it is celebrated in a big way in industrial sectors. The architect god has justifiably claimed his rightful place amongst the gods. Assam is lagging far behind others in every aspect; yet we do not see any lack of fervour in observing the puja in glamorous settings. Some offices or institutes, which have some connection with power or technology demand dotions from the hapless consumers, who have to meet their exorbitant demands. It is not virtue, but prudence which prompts their action.
If the puja cleanses the hearts of the people and leads them towards a noble ideal, it is well and good. But it does not really happen that way, as far as we can make out. We forget that gods really do not demand any decorative settings or gorgeous pandals. They are satisfied with the simplest offerings, if they are offered with sincerity and devotion. The puja preparations need not reek of money. I do not think that the gods are least interested in money power or dotions. In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krish told Arju that any small offering like leaves, flowers, water or fruits offered with devotion pleases him. The same is the case in the context of all the deities we worship, as the scriptures state. They do not want gold or silver or money to be showered on them nor do they want pomp or splendour. But people now apparently believe that God bestows His favours only on those who offer the most valuable things. It is truly a ridiculous notion to say the least. With a pure heart we can please God and receive his blessings. Hence money is not a factor in the worship of any God, but today it appears to play a big role in the puja celebrations.
Ritualism has taken a very important place in all kinds of pujas. If by worshipping God people become better human beings, then certainly it is a step in the right direction. But unfortutely it does not seem to happen. There is enough festivity, but very little sanctity.
I have no idea how much sincerity or purity of mind the devotees have, when they perform the puja in front of Lord Biswakarma. Enough excitement and gaiety are noted each year during the puja and this year certainly is no exception. It has also been noticed since last few years that no function can be organized without scintillating Hindi film songs blaring through the loud speakers. The same thing happens in Biswakarma puja as well. Anybody living within the radius of a couple of kilometres would have to be stone deaf not to be disturbed by the din they make. So this year also the neighbours have been treated with the latest film numbers throughout day and night. I suppose these titillating filmi songs give a boost to the energy of the organizers, who remain busy with decorations, lighting and other activities which are supposed to be indispensable for the success of the puja. Since various pujas are organized in the same area, the noise they make can be easily envisaged. It is also not difficult to guess the plight of the residents living in the neighbourhood. I wonder why these scintillating Hindi film songs are so necessary to activate the organizers. They possibly think that it is a kind of tonic to revive their sagging spirit. The problem is that they not only love to listen to these songs, but also insist that others in the locality also like them which is rather unfair. I think the puja organizers should consider the feelings of the residents staying nearby. There might be old and sick people, who should not be disturbed in any way. Further, these exuberant filmi songs are totally incongruous with the puja spirit.
But undoubtedly Biswakarma puja brings lots of joy not only to the organizers, but to others irrespective of differences in caste or creed. In fact, it is always seen that people belonging to different religions perform the Biswakarma puja in perfect harmony and that does demonstrate the fact that basically India is a unity in diversity.
It is a very enjoyable event for every one—adults, old people, and children visit various puja sites. The decorations and lighting wonders are breath-taking. They mutely demonstrate the ingenuity and the creative skill of our local youths. They really have talents, which become explicit on such occasions. The idols too are magnificent and they prove the hidden and ucknowledged calibre of the unknown artisans.
The morning rituals are reserved for worshipping the deity with floral offerings by the devotees. The evenings are meant for hilarity, without a trace of spirituality. What is noticeable in these functions is the power of money. There seems to be some undeclared competition amongst the various groups regarding the decoration and money power, which is evident to all. Actually the pujas can be performed without the glamorous display and one should realize that in any puja the devotee must surrender himself to God totally.
The pujas are sacred and the solemn occasion should not be marred by unethical behaviour. In many pujas we only see outward show, which deprives the puja of its sanctity and turns the auspicious event into a farce. On the immersion day sometimes people hear about unpalatable incidents like drunken brawls, which not only damage the puja austerities, but also cause needless unpleasantness. Often some puja revellers make obscene remarks and tease young girls moving around to witness the pujas in different areas. These things merely destroy the spirit of puja.
Hilarity is a part of youth and we cannot expect them to remain solemn and pious throughout day and night. Biswakarma puja brings them an outlet for their exuberance and joy. It is tural for them. The only thing is that hilarity must not cross the limit. Ritualism is an aspect of not only Hinduism, but of every religion. It has been sanctioned by the religious texts towards the realization of God. But ritualism without purity of mind is a meaningless exercise. We have become too much dependent on ritualism without understanding its implications. Worship of any god is not child’s play; it should be done properly with the true spirit of devotion. For us ignorance is bliss and very few of us care to know the true significance of the puja. Hence so many conflicts arise due to the misinterpretation of religion. But it is also true that in spite of being ignorant of the meaning of the pujas, religious practices do bring some solace to the mind of the devotees and that is a great thing for the elevation of the mind.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)