Durga Puja ‘Royale’
A West Indian once asked me, “What’s the big deal about Durga Puja? Is it as big as Ganesh Chaturthi?”
I informed him that Ma Durga is the mother of Ganesh and Durga Puja is the mother of all festivals. Durga Puja is the Rio Carnival of the Eastern Hemisphere!
According to folklore, the first Durga Puja in Bengal was initiated by the ‘zamindars of Dinajpur and Malda. Some sources say the Rajas of Taherpur or Nadiya were responsible. It’s a bit confusing!
When a chance presented itself to witness Durga Puja at a royal household, I was excited. The experience was unforgettable. I even posed with one of the kings of yesteryears who resembled me just a little bit. (See picture above)
The traditional Puja rites were an eye opener. The ‘pujari’ went into a fit while doing the ‘aarti’ and had to be supported by three men as he propitiated the goddess with huge lamps. Some whispered how the goddess had chosen to enter his body and some sniggered how it was a marketing gimmick.
I felt sad that the remnants of the royal family were cash strapped. The Belgian mirror was in bad shape and the chandeliers looked like they would disintegrate on the pujari’s head to relieve him of his fit. But the best was yet to come. Tradition demanded that a gun be fired. People like me, who were expecting a Kalashnikov were disappointed as an old faded rifle was handed to the last of the Mohicans. But just as the old king tried to fire, the gun got jammed and this resulted in panic. It didn’t help that someone chose to shout, “Baba, the bullet might go off. Rush to the garden.”
People ducked, women screamed, parents clasped their children to their bosoms, photographers clicked, the ‘pujari’ was still in his fit (maybe he wasn’t pretending) as the man ran to the garden in his dhoti kurta, rifle held overhead with one hand and clutching his dhoti with the other. Please don’t hit the Belgian mirror, I prayed! But the man somehow reached the garden and buried the rifle into Mother Earth. Another gun was produced (or was it the same one?) and this time it did go off, amidst applause and scaring some pigeons clustered in the rooftops. Durga Puja Royale was a whole lot of fun.
The most important aspect of the Pujas for me is the ‘pushpanjali’ (mass prayer of the goddess on an empty stomach) on ‘Mahaashtami’, the third day of the Pujas. I have always tried to offer prayers on this day but once in Bangalore, I found myself in a tricky situation. It was a working day and I was reporting to a North Indian who claimed relation to royalty. I begged a leave of absence for a couple of hours on account of ‘pushpanjali.’
‘Yaar, Pushpa aur Anjali dono se milna hai toh kaam kab karega?’ was his retort.
‘Dugga Dugga!’ was all I could say.