The homecoming of Durga

With folded hands, my prayers at the feet of the Goddess. Jai Maa Durga! — kaleiodoscopic kanvas

 Durga Puja, yet another moment in our lives in which mythology, religious practice and culture interacts with each other. Nasif Tanjim writes about a daughter’s return to her troubled home and the promises she brings with her focusing mainly on different versions of the mythological origination of the characters involved in the celebration of Durga Puja.

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I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.

The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

Devi Sukta, Rigveda

So it is that time of the year again. The Ganges Delta is alive with the sound of ‘agamani’. She has adorned the banks of her rivers and canals, her vast open fields with ‘kash’ as she prepares herself for the arrival of the mighty king Himalaya’s daughter Durga. Not Durga the invincible but, Durga the daughter. The autumn is ready to welcome the returning daughter with its ever familiar strands of snowy clouds and light cool breeze. The stage for homecoming is all set.

This is the imagery that comes to my mind whenever I hear Durga Puja is just around the corner, a season blessed with peace and tranquillity. But that is just wishful thinking. Because, all is not well. Just last month, unidentified iconoclasts ravaged several idols of Hindu goddesses at two different temples in Dinajpur municipality area. And, this event got me thinking about what drove the perpetrators to commit such a heinous act? Perhaps, lack of proper knowledge about other religions? We all fear what we don’t know and fear breeds hatred. With Durga Puja just round the corner, it could benefit us all if we learned a little more about this grand festival.

There are a few different stories in Hindu mythology about the origin of Durga Puja. My vision of Durga Puja originates from my favourite version of those stories. But, there are other interesting ones too.

One story from the Hindu mythology tells us that Durga Puja was initially performed in ‘Basanta’ or spring time. This was known as ‘basanti puja’. Rama first did the worship of Devi Durga in the month of Ashwin, hence it is known as ‘Akalbodhan’, meaning ‘an uncustomary time of commencement’. It is said that hundred blue lotuses are required for this puja to be successful. He could find only 99 and hence offered one of his eyes as a substitute of the hundredth flower. His devotion pleased Devi Durga who blessed him and he finally won over Ravana, killing him in the process. The battle was started on ‘Saptami’, generally accepted as the starting day of the Durga Puja and ended on the period between ‘Astami’ and ‘Navami’. Ravana’s body was cremated on Dashami.

Another popular myth about the origin of Durga Puja goes something like this, once there was a demon king, Mahishasura, who was ready to attack on gods of heaven. He was too powerful for any single god. So an eternal power was created by the Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh who were named  Durga, the fierce form of the protective mother goddess, willing to unleash her anger against wrong, violence for liberation and destruction to empower creation. The day of her victory is called Vijayadashami.

According to Hindu mythology goddess Durga has 10 hands which hold 10 different weapons used to fight the evil, ‘Asura’. The bow and arrows in Durga’s hand represent energy. The thunderbolt signifies firmness. The lotus in Durga’s hand is not fully bloomed, it symbolises certainty of success but not finality. The sword that Durga holds in one of her hands depicts knowledge. And, her ride is the mighty lion.

The mondop in which the puja takes place along with the idol are designed following a specific theme. Visiting various mondops is an integral part of the celebrations. Ritual drummers or dhakis add to the ambience of Durga Puja. The dhunuchi nach and the beat of the drums are something which goes hand in hand.

The festival lasts for five days. Mahasasthi, the sixth day from the new moon, marks the beginning of Durga puja. The face of the deity is unveiled in the Mahasasthi evening. This is popularly known as the bodhon of Devi Durga. Mahasaptami, the very next day of Sasthi, is the prime day of the five days long fiesta when pran pratistha into the idol is done. Mahashtami, the eighth day from the new moon, the most important day of the five days, is the day when kumari is worshipped and chandi path, kumari puja and aarati are the main attractions of this day. Mahanavami is the last day of the goddess in her paternal house.

On the day of Mahadashami Devi Durga starts her journey towards her abode in Kailasa where she resides with her husband Shiva. Before the Devi starts her journey towards Kailasa with her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati, married women apply vermilion on the forehead of Devi and ask her to return next year. At the end of the day, the idol is taken for immersion in a procession amid loud chants of ‘aashchhe bochhor abar hobe (It will happen again next year)’. It is a phrase that embodies the yearning we all feel during good bye). Devi is taken to a water body.

Durga puja is the season of coming back to your loved ones; it is the season of returning home. Not just for the Devi but also for mere mortals. So many daughters are reunited with their parents just like Devi Durga during this time of the year. It’s a magical time. The sights and sounds, the musky scent of dhoop, the rhythmic sound of dhaak laced with nostalgia can only be described as enchanting. But this puja comes at a difficult time as millions of Rohingya are facing exodus. Leaving a home they might never return to. Durga Puja symbolises the triumph of good over evil. May the evils the Rohingyas are facing at home be vanquished, may love prevail over hatred. May the spirit of ‘sarvajanin durgapuja’ (durjapuja for all) truly transcends all boundaries and touch all living souls.

 

Nasif Tanjim is a student of Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.

 

 

 

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