Triumph Of The Goddess
The Durga tableaux has a unique universal appeal and is the source of enthusiastic devotion. To really know Bengal and delight in its music, drama and art, make sure you are there during the month of October to experience the great festival called 'Durga Puja'.
According to the legends, once upon a time, there was a giant named Durga. He had acquired such terrifying psychic powers that he threatened to turn the whole of creation upside-down. The Gods then appealed to the mother Goddess, Parvati, and each of them donated a part of his special divine power to her. Armed with these powers, depicted as a number of hands, the Great Mother mounted her 'vehicle', the lion, and sallied forth to attack the monster.
The fearsome creature assumed many shapes including that of a gigantic, black buffalo but it was all to no avail. The Goddess slew him, and the Gods and all creation heaved a collective sigh of relief. Because the demon's name was Durg, the triumphant Mother Goddess took the feminine form of the name, Durga. This is in keeping with the old, worldwide tradition of the victor assuming the name of the vanquished and thereby, absorbing the fallen enemy's powers.
Images Of The Mother Goddess
Images of the mother Goddess show her as a gentle and beautiful woman, her skin glowing with the radiance of the Gods. Nine of her ten arms hold various weapons, one of which is a spear which pierces the heart of the defeated giant; the tenth arm, a left one, grasps the hair of the giant and even, occasionally, holds it aloft, decapitated. Her Vahan (vehicle), the Lion, also helps in the attack. Images of her four children: warrior-God, Kartik; the benign elephant-headed Ganesh: the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi: and the Goddess of learning, Saraswati are also featured.
Decorating The Idols
Naturally, the creation of such idols has become a highly skilled and traditional craft passed down the generations of sculptors families. The images are generally made on forms of straw and bamboo, covered with clay. Alternately, they are sculpted out of the pith of reed, reputedly the same material out of which the Raj-era sun hats or the solar topees were made. This pith has the sheen of old ivory and so skilled are the pith sculptors that it seems to a first time visitor a sculpture carved out of pure ivory.
Dress is normally incorporated as part of the reed sculptures but the brightly painted clay images are arrayed in shimmering crowns, costume jewellery and seemingly expensive robes.
These images are then displayed in elaborate altars or Puja Pandals - the pride and prestige of the neighbourhood. Families, institutions like colleges and universities, often entire streets, get together months before puja to collect money for their revered shrines. And then with everyone chipping in, the great festively decorated stages begin to rise - at the end of a cul-de-sac, behind the grille of a silver smith's shop, in a family courtyard, a park, on a playing field there are literally hundreds of Puja Pandals in Kolkata (Calcutta). To make things easier, newspapers send out their teams and publish lists of the best pandals in town. These are normally covered by special coach tours.
Days Of Celebration
The first two days of Puja are devoted to enjoying the food and the myriad cultural activities of the festive season. Then one can revel in the glittering spectacles of an all night Pandal. It's an experience, which saturates our senses sight, smell, taste, sound and touch.
In the evening, nostalgically one walks to the banks of the slow flowing, silt heavy Hooghly and watch, silently, as the exquisitely fashioned idols are immersed in the river. Slowly, the beautiful images which have been admired and worshipped for many days, sink. A smudge of colour, a few flowers, swirl in the current for a while then even they become a part of that great flood.
Evil has been vanquished and creation can live in peace for another Durga -protected year.