The beautiful Durga' idol

The beautiful Durga idol

If Navarathri is for Southies, Ram Leela for Northies then for Bengalis it is Durga Pooja. I think I can go on and on about this particular festival.

There is a Durga Mata’s temple in Kochi where I lived when young and it was frequented by the Gujarathis. I had many Gujarathi friends and for them this nine day festival was a grand occasion. The Durga idol was red in colour, seated on her vehicle, the Lion. The deity would be adorned with colourful sari for each day of the festival. There would be Garbha from 5- 7 in the evenings. For this all the women folk would come with all their finery and they would wear similar coloured saris which the Goddess would be wearing on that day. It was fun to watch all women coming in uniform and they would play Garbha, a dance form where the women would go around a center pedestal on which a see through pot would be kept. A lamp would be glowing inside that pot. The hall was in front of the idol and it was circular in shape. The women danced clapping their hands, a slow movement with rhythmic steps and they would be singing some song in praise of the goddess. There was dandiya ras for younger energetic ones and we sometimes went there to see the beautiful rhythmic dance form of Gujarat. We used to sit glued to our seats seeing them go in circles, tapping the dandiyas with one another with out missing any beat or hits. They would be all wearing colorful costumes with heavily laid zari and mirror work, the traditional dress of Gujarat. I used to feel I was in Gujarat during that period. The rhythmic movements will get fast paced and it would reach a crescendo and I felt they were all like Krishna and Gopikas. We were only spectators and we enjoyed every moment of that. Outside the temple all Gujarathi delicacies would be available and we never missed a chance in gorging this too. Navarathri was a time to eat, roam and enjoy. When young itself I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of people of different culture as the place I stayed was a cosmopolitan one.

Navarathri days were also for ringing wedding bells for many as fixing up marriages was easy as people met each other and exchanged information. Cross verification about either family was done as the present telephonic revolution had not taken place; very few had the luxury of having a telephone at home.

After my marriage I moved over to Calcutta and I really loved the Durga pooja celebrations there. It would start with the chanda collection and each house had to contribute their mite to build the Durga Pandal and for the decorations and celebrations. Each colony would have its own Durga in its pandal. Each tried to out do the other in decorating the pandal as a palace, or some even like coco-cola bottles. I liked the beautiful, wide eyed Durga’s statue with long tresses flowing up to her knees. We went from pandal to pandal as the decorations and the idols would look different. The drum beats, part of the Durga pooja alleviated the mood to a frenzy making the people sway to the rhythm.

All traffic would be regulated and people would be moving on foot even during the nights. The puchka wala (Panipuri seller) could be found on every street corner with his madka pot tied with a red cloth. Boys and girls, men women could be seen around the puchkawala eating this famous fast food. In fact there is a specific style for eating this puchka. You have to stand with legs slightly apart and your body inclined to the front by 5 degrees. With your left palm held parallel to the earth. The puchka wala would give a leaf plate in your left hand. The puchka fellow with his right thumb will press the top of the puri gently to open the top to fill it with some aloo mixture and top with some tamarind water, spiced with herbs from the madka pot and put it on the leaf. One had to use the right hand delicately holding the stuffed puri at its rims and shove it into the mouth in one go and enjoy devouring the khatta meetha puchka ahhh….. By the time you had finished one the puchka wala would have already served the next one in your left hand and you can very easily lose count on the numbers you have gulped because so attractive would be the whole process particularly when you are surrounded by young attractive Bongs. (Ensure you have a strip of Lomotil before you indulge in this).

Durga pooja time is also the time when Bengalis buy all their clothes for the year and the market would be flooded with ‘Sales’ and all the ladies happy and radiant with their shopping binge. I have lived in almost all parts of India but yet to come across a better bargain I ever had than in Calcutta and such lovely people!

On Mahanavami no body would sleep as festivities would continue even into the night. In Calcutta the celebrations start on Panchami and culminate on Vijayadashami when the idols would be immersed in the river Hooghly. The idols would be transported by trucks for the immersion and it would move like a caravan one behind the other. I simply loved the festivities. I still miss those days. Every Navarathri is a time for me to remember my child hood Navarathri days and then the Durga pooja days which have left an indelible mark in my mind.

Jai Durgambigai!