As I spent best part of my life in West Bengal, Durga Puja became our most important of festivals. From early school days at Birlapur, I remember those Bengali Jatras, the open stage plays that were the best attractions. But the most filling event was the sweets offered at the friends’ houses on the Vijayadasami, the tenth day. From Hind Motor days, I remember of one or two night trips to Puja pandals in Calcutta along with the kids. The thing that I disliked most was the separate ques for the women and men in the pandals. It used to cause a lot of problems and unnecessary worries. Later on, I never dared to go out though my Bangali friends and acquaintances kept on insisting me and even though Yamuna loved it. I never liked the huge crowd at the pandals.
My grandfather used to read the whole of Tulsidas’s Ramayan in nine days as ritual finishing on Navami. I followed his way for many years. But now I only read Durgasaptasati. The 700-verse Devi Mahatmyam or Durgasaptsati is from the Markandeya Purana.
Durga is the militant manifestation of Parvati, the consort of Shiva and the embodiment of Shakti, infinite energy created from the combined invocation and the conjoined effulgence of the gods. Gods couldn’t face the demons individually or together and were driven away from heaven by rampaging demons after the battle, which they lost. The gods gave Durga their powerful weaponry in a bid to strengthen Durga’s 10 hands to fight the ferocious fiends headed by Mahishasura, the buffalo-demon.
Shiva gave her his trident, Vishnu his disc, Kubera his club, Indra his thunder and Vayu his bow and arrows. Other gods vied with each other to equip her with their best of the tools. Equipped with the varied weaponry, she mounted her lion. Mahadevi Durga challenged the demons considered so far invincible. And in a fierce and gory battle, she ultimately killed him and became Mahisasurmardini.
Is it not the story that tells us that the woman supported and assisted by the males can do better than them? Was this annual festival started to remind the conflict between divine and demonic forces that always exist in all society? Does the story of Mahishasurmardini symbolise the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil and the undying hope of the ultimate triumph of all that is good?
Does this annual homecoming of the mother remind us about the continuity of the battle against the evils of the society?
In Durgasaptasati Durga has been depicted in many forms and with varied traits. She is on one hand Bhavani, Gauri, Uma and on the other Durga, Kali, Shyama, Chandi and Bhairavi besides being also Jaagaddhatri, Amba, Bhadrakali and Chamundi.
Does Durga Puja also try to remind us the role the woman can play to strengthen the society?
One of our close elderly acquaintances had requested me to take them to Puja pandal of Noida. Today we could take them. I happen to meet some alumni of IIT too in one of the pandals. Durga Puja has now spread all over India. Even many pujas are organized in US, EU and UK too.
And perhaps ‘Incredible India’ can make this festival season a marketing feature to attract tourists from abroad. With mass dancing concerts for dandia and garba in Mumbai and Gujarat, the dusehra processions with elegantly decorated elephants in Mysore, unbelievable architectural feats of the pandals (structure to house the festivals and install the statues) and sculpture excellence, and Ramlila, there can’t be better occasion for the foreigners to enjoy the best and understand India.