This year on what is the Mother Goddess arriving ? On the eve of every Durga Puja, when we were children this was the question. My mother would take pains to explain: sometimes on a chariot, sometimes on a boat, sometimes on an animal, a sacred animal... my imagination would do wonders. Yes, the Goddess was, and is, human. Sometimes, my mother would say she is known as Parvati, sometimes Kali, sometimes in other parts of the country Lakshmi. But Lakshmi is her daughter? Yes, she would reply, in the pantheon, but she has many forms and witnesses. One was Siva, who is also her husband, my mother paused, contemplated.
Why does she have ten arms? Because she is omnipotent, she has the third eye as well, the inner eye. I would love to see the idols, decked in clours, wrapped in clothes, and when they sank, during the immersion ceremony, so did my heart.
Durga Puja was a festival of new clothes, gifts, and three days of sauntering in and around the Puja pandals. To have 'prasad' was another delight, to see the idols bedecked with flowers, to offer pushpanjali was of course a great opportunity to be near the goddess and her cohorts, and to worship. As years passed the solemnity of this occassion was often marred by boisterous Hindi film songs, recitation competitions and events such as quiz and antakshri. I would wonder what these havae to do with the celebration of the Pujas or worship of the deities, or to finally signify the ultimate, the triumph of good over evil, which is the final call of all religions? Moreover, crowds were maddening and one felt claustrophobic in the pandals. An act of worship or spirituality has quiescence, solitude about it and not boisterous merry making. Quiz competitions and recitation competitions can take place at other times. So can the listening or airing of Hindi film songs, or for that matter Rabindra Sangeet. Why choose an auspicious occassion like this to blare only film songs? And why for heaven's, sake debating and, quiz competitions? The focus was slowly getting lost and so was my interest in these pandals.
Today as I retrospect on the Pujas of my childhood fantasies I find that those were more sober and there was a solemnity and religiosity if I may call it about them. But today unfortunately most of it is only cacaphony. On such occassions it would be better to do some service or render some help to the poor especially, when the country is ravaged by so many ills; from man made to natural calamities.
It is the Pujas of the yester years which I cherish and remember for childhood; with all its innocence is at stake.