Aaj Shosthi, the Sixth Day of Navratri and the first Day of Durga Pujo.
As I pulled the car out of the driveway, I rolled down the windows and sniffed the air. It was crisp, clean and yet I could faintly smell the shiuli, the tiny white flowers with their deep yellow stalks which carpeted the back garden at my grandma’s house. This was the season they bloomed in abundance, pristine white, heady fragrance offering them for the Pujo.
It was still dark and I listened intently. It was quiet except for the cars whooshing past, and I strained my ear to catch the faint sound of the drum, maybe the dhaaki would be playing a playful practice beat at this time of the day.
As the day dawned, the sky was overcast but the forecast predicted a clear blue with cotton clouds hanging around, just like Sharat er Akaash (autumn sky) and my heart skipped a beat. For a fleeting moment I thought of the crowds at the Puja Pandal back home, the Priest announcing the Anjali* over the microphone, the jostling for the flowers for Anjali, waiting in queue for the prashad and Durga Thakur’s face smiling down benevolently at me.
But strangely I didn’t feel a tug at my heart as I used to in my initial years away from home. Even in the absence of these, I could feel the rush in my heart because it was the first day of Durga Pujo. Maybe because more than anything Puja for me has meant being home with the family and this year I have family here, ok half the family.
Durga Pujo always meant going back to my Baba’s home town in Bihar, to the address I had to write as “Permanent Address” in all my school forms. It meant days of waiting for the Puja Holidays to begin, of buying clothes and sarees for the family, of My Baba’s very happy face and my Ma’s not so happy one(she would be away from her folks). The essence of Pujo would begin with Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice on Mahalaya at 4 AM over the air waves. The excitement would mount until a day before Shoshthi when we would pile up two rickshaws with suitcases and head for the Station, to board the Tinsukhia** at an ungodly hour.
The five days of Pujo would pass with two trips to the Thakur Bari every morning and evening.
The tempo which was subdued at Shoshthi would gather a momentum by Ashtami the “Eighth Day of Navratri” and the most important Day of Durga Pujo. The Mandap would be charged with frenzied beats of the Dhak, Durga Thakur’s face would be glowing with Garjon Tel, her dark beautiful eyes would take a life of their own, the crowds would be at their peak and you felt a part of a huge celebration. Above the chanting of “Ya devi Sarvabhooteshu ”*** you could hear the announcer yelling “Guddu ki ma, aap jahan kahi hain, …” and you put in a prayer for the unknown little boy who was missing his mother.
It was heady, invigorating and you did not have to a believer to be with the crowd.
And then came Dashami and you felt a deluge of sadness. As my Ma and my Aunts bade farewell to Durga, by offering her sweets and sindoor, I felt a pain. There was this immense sadness of a dear one leaving for a far off land. A sadness which could only be healed with the prospect of the sweets & savories earmarked for Bijoya Dashami.
Thus ended Pujo, but the effect lingered as we went around visiting relatives for Bijoya and sampling Nimki, Narkel Naru and ghugni at the umpteenth house. By the time we were tired of the detoriating conditions of the Ghugni and the increasing hardness of the Narkel narus, it was Lakshmi Pujo and then time to go back home, to routine, to books, to exams.
More than any mythology associated with Durga Pujo, I loved the folk lore which talks about Durga visiting her Mother’s home, the Earth, with her 4 children for a 5 day vacation every year. She felt like my Mother who too went back to her parents home once a year. I look forward to welcoming the daughter back to her Mother’s home every year in autumn and pamper her before bidding her a tearful farewell on dashami, when she goes back to her husband.
Though Pujo here is not same as back home, I am still excited about going to Pujo tomorrow, to take out my silks and to see Ma Durga who is more like family who visits once a year than any Goddess. I shall offer my Anjali in the evening and reuse my flowers which I shall not throw at the Goddess' feet, see Sondhi Pujo on Friday evening and wait for the 108 lamps to be lit albeit by electricity, wait for the Arati and seek blessings from those flames for myself, my daughter, my family, have Bhog on Styrofoam plates balanced on my knees, catch up with friends and overhear elderly Bengali ladies displaying their expensive saree and jewellery subtly.
Amidst the crowds and the haze of the incense, I will look up to Durga’s face and see her still smiling kindly and I shall hope that smile gives my daughter belief in her own strength and reassure her as it always did for me, that “all is well with the world and goodness still wins over evil” . That for me is Durga Pujo.
Anjali* -- Offering of flowers to the deity Tinsukhia** -- A train running from Delhi to Guwahati Ya Devi Shorbobhooteshu*** -- Start of a sloka in praise of Goddess Durga dhaaki -- The drum players, who came from the many smaller villages to the city to play the dhak, the drum, for the Puja.
Predominantly a Bong, who loves being a Mom and loves to cook among other things for the li'l one and the big ones.She loves to write too and you will find her food spiced up with stories. Mainly a collection of Bengali Recipes with other kinds thrown in, in good measure. A Snapshot of Bengali Cuisine