‘Pujar botor’…what does that mean…well, it means the Durga puja season…the season of autumn( sorot kal, as we call it)…. when there is a slight nip in the air…when the sun shines down a bit lazily…when there are smiles all around…people moving to and and fro with that sense of urgency to reach the puja mondop and offer their prayers…to get a strategic place to stand before it gets over crowded.
The Durga Puja is celebrated in various parts of India in different styles. But the one basic aim of this celebration is to propitiate Shakti, the Goddess in Her aspect as Power, to bestow upon man all wealth, auspiciousness, prosperity, knowledge (both sacred and secular), and all other potent powers. Whatever be the particular or special request that everyone may put before the Goddess is being effected consciously or unconsciously. Everyone is blessed with Her loving mercy and is protected by Her.(From ” Hindu Fasts & Festivals ” by Sri Swami Sivananda.) It is held in commemoration of the victory of Durga over Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon. Her image is worshipped for nine days and then cast into water. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami . Processions with Her image are taken out along the streets of villages and cities.
Artisans work day and night to get the idols of the goddess completed for the big and small community pandals. I still remember standing in front of the idol of the goddess with ten hands, astride her lion, striking the demon, and being overcome by a sense of awe and respect(I still am) while taking in the smell of the dhup( incense sticks), dhuna, and lit ghee- filled earthen lamps by the numerous devotees, …somewhat heady, somewhat intoxicating. I remember the priest chanting the sloks, ringing the tilinga/bell and blowing the sonkho/conch, as we bowed our heads in front of the deity. And then, the best bit…when the priest would put a large red phoot/tilak on our forehead…a sign that one has paid one’s respects to the goddess. We used to check each other to see who got the perfect round one and exactly in the middle of the forehead, which most of us didn’t get, as there were so many foreheads to be stamped!
Away from home, my mind still has those vivid pictures of a typical day of the puja festivities when I was kid..we would eagerly look forward to those puja holidays(around 16 days!)…wake up early in the morning, have a bath, and of course wash the hair(in fact going to the pandal with wet and combed hair was the right thing to do), dress up in our puja finery(a.ka. new clothes), drag along with my ma and other ladies from the neighbourhood, dressed in beautiful mekhela sadors ( the men would be helping out in the pandals), with their hands full of offerings to the goddess. Once there, and having paid our respects,while the ladies would sit together and sing ‘durga naam’(hymns in praise of the goddess) we kids were allowed to wander nearby a bit( and since there was always someone or the other from our neighbourhood discreetly keeping an eye on us, the mums would not need to worry ); and that was usually when we would crowd around those vendors selling all those colourful goodies… all the boys and many of the girls almost always had those pistols which they fired constantly to let out clouds of smoke and leave that rancid smell in the air( somehow puja was not a puja without those pistols)…then there were those must have fashionable plastic glasses in all the colours imaginable…the balloons of course, especially those tied to a small stick and filled something to make it jingle when shaken, the beads and rings…the sakari, which was like the blades of a fan and attached to a stick which one held and ran to make the blades move round and round. It was so much fun. and oh! what about those coloured sweets that one had to have so that one could proudly show around the coloured tongue!
As we approached midday( especially on mahashtami, the eighth day), the booming sound of the priest over the microphone ,calling one and all to hurry up to give anjali (offerings of flowers to the goddess along with the chanting of sloks). As kids, there was a lot of giggling going around as we couldn’t understand all the sloks(chantings) recited in Sanskrit and which we found quite amusing, much to the annoyance of our elders. After the anjali, we would line up for the community meal of khichdi, ‘labra’( a mixed vegetable of pumpkins, cabbages , potatoes, brinjals, moolees), sometimes with ‘bilahir tok’(a tomato chutney) and always followed by ‘payash’(rice pudding)… a very simple meal but utterly divine…
In the evenings, people would dress up in their puja finery and go pandal hopping…to see the various idols in the numerous pandals. Some of the pandals, even managed to offer special effects to the idols… definite crowd pullers. As for the kids, the pistols and the balloons are still there.
On the tenth day, the idols are taken out in processions through the streets and then submerged into the river…marking the end of the ten day festivities…this is bijoya dashami. It is traditional to have sweets on this day, especially jalebis…and deuta(my father) would bring those from the famous sweet shop near our house, who worked overtime trying to meet the demands of the never ending queue of customers. As kids, dashami just meant that we get to have loads of these warm, freshly prepared jalebis, licking our sticky hands. This day is also very special for me as I got married on one dashami day…just like the goddess, I too left for my husband’s abode on one such day(it is said that the goddess goes to visit her mother during this period and returns to her husband after nine days, on dashami.).
As I grew older, and the pistols and balloons were no longer a part of my life( but it makes me sadder to wonder whether my kids will have such memories to share), I felt (and still feel now) the sense of awe and wonder when I step into a pandal and gaze upon the goddess. Of course, so far removed from home, ‘pujar botor’ is not ‘pujar botor’ anymore. But still, as we refer to the goddess as ‘Ma Durga’… the mother of mankind… I bow my head and seek her blessings.
-I’m sending this post over to dear Vee as a non food related entry for JFS:Dassera