Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos


Bengalis love to write about Durga Puja. It’s their favorite festival – rather, it’s THE festival.

Today is Mahalaya. It’s the first day of the Puja. It signifies the six-day countdown to the beginning of the Pujas which is signaled by Maha-Saptami. It’s the time of the year when there is a faint chill in the air, autumn moving slowly towards winter with a myriad of scents and sounds. It’s the time of the year when every Bengali far away from Bengal feels a twang of self-pity mixed with deep sadness. It’s the time when lazy, thoroughbred Bengalis miraculously discover their dancing shoes and suddenly are full of strength, joy and vitality. Today I am away from Bengal, and though my memories of Durga Puja are a mixed one, it saddens me that I am away from my family during this time of the year which means such a lot to each and every family-member.

Durga Puja arguably is the largest festival in the country, in terms of size, investment and sheer enjoyment. The only other festival which comes close to it with respect to these factors is the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, in the state of Maharashtra. It’s a festival of colors, not inordinately in the way Holi is, but just about adequate; it’s a festival of new clothes; gaiety, merriment and goodwill; handsome triumphs of good over various manifestations of evil; it’s a festival of a plethora of Gods and goddesses. Durga and her four children come in resplendent splendor, Saraswati on her swan, Lakshmi on her owl, Ganesh on the mouse, and Kartik on his peacock; as Mahisasur lies bleeding, defeated and despairing at Durga’s feet. Durga Puja is about huge pandals, lustrous decoration, innovative ideas; Durga Puja is about creativity and emotion, devotion and merriment, and all of it at the same time. Most importantly, it brings all Bengalis together in a way no other festival can.

My formative years were spent in the little village-town of Bhubaneswar, where Durga Puja was a rather subdued, formal affair with all the Bengalis congregating from all over the town and meeting at a central place for mind-numbingly boring adda. My views about Durga Puja underwent a massive transformation after my first visit to Kolkata during the Pujas sometime in the year 1990. It’s a long time back, but those memories still remain. And that’s when I realized that the festival meant more about traditions than the actual act of worshipping; it was more about innocent faith than inordinately formal devotion.

As my mom woke me up at dawn to the strains of “Give me victory, give me beauty, give me fame, O you conqueror of all evil”, I realized that for me and for every other Bengali who was listening to the same thing at the same unearthly hour of the morning, it was much more than just a song. It was difficult to place my exact feelings then, it’s even tougher to place my feelings correctly now, even though I am supposedly more mature and understanding; but not listening to Mahalaya early in the morning evokes in me a deep sadness, something that penetrates to the very core of my being. Gradually, I grew up; Durga Puja became a little more significant and a little less obscure in my mind. It became a time when I could burst crackers till midnight with no one to scold me; it became a time when all the rules were relaxed; a time when you could run around and wreak havoc all day long and have no one wagging a finger over your head. As my age increased and maturity remained constant, the Pujas became an occasion to eat forbidden rolls from the very stalls which were out-of-reach during normal times; and the so-called Puja routine assumed a different charm of its own. The Pujas, I realized were a joyous time when one could sleep at night and dream about the new clothes which one would wear the next morning; it became a time when one would wake up on a chilly Ashtami morning, with the heavenly smell of freshly fried luchis and Begun bhaja in the early hours of the morning; it became a time to visit my old uncle and listen to him play some extremely beautiful songs on his dilapidated grand piano; it became a time for family get-togethers which for a change did not reek of boredom and cliché; it became a time to sit up all nights and release fluorescent colored balloons into the night-sky.

Adolescence came, and with it, it brought newer flavors to the same festival. Pujas came to represent love, unfettered, unbound, no holds barred. It meant praying to Durga on Ashtami, puspanjali in the morning, and eyeing the pretty next-door girl from the corner of your eye, hoping against hope that she fell for me. It meant first attempts at forbidden pleasures, the first cigarette, and the first disgusting taste of alcohol. Ashtami for many was the time to drink, primarily because it’s a dry day in all of Kolkata on this day. Pujas and adolescence mixed together to make me realize that all was not hunky-dory with the world, it made me realize that the world was really not an easy place to live in, I realized that a lot of things in this world are based on two very basic premises – love and money. These realizations brought about revelations, sometimes hallucinations, and though, today, I find it tough to say what exactly I thought, and what exactly I deduced, I can safely say that Durga Pujas during adolescence was a very different time; it was a time when I enjoyed a lot, but always brooded; always felt something was missing.

Years passed by, and I reached college. Durga Puja was shortened to DP, and it came about to signify homecoming, much more than anything else at all. It meant a huge group meeting up in front of Music World, spending a few hours in Olypub, boisterous singing in Maddox Square till the wee hours of the morning, and as the next morning would come, warm and chilly at the same time, the faint winds of dawn would blow the dust over the fields, and bring me around to bowing my hands in front of the goddess in a whirlwind of dust and weed, praying for forgiveness, for love, most of all, for everlasting peace. My mind would scream – “Happiness, Maa, that’s all I want!”

And it’s been a long time since I felt the same way during Puja. My last Puja which I spent in Kolkata was my last year in Kharagpur, after which I failed to make it in the month of October to the city I love. I still go to Kolkata at times, when my office gives me leave, and when I think it won’t be too hot, but as I look upon Maa Durga’s tumid October face today, and think about what it means to worship her and celebrate her victory, I realize that this Puja has always meant much more than just a festival. Durga Puja is not just about the glittering lights, about the resplendent décor and the lavish beauty of the idols, it’s not just about the bevy of Bengali beauties thronging the grounds of Maddox Square, it’s not just about meeting up with long-lost friends and getting drunk in the dark corners of Olypub, it’s not just about the dhaakis and the marijuana, and it’s not just about your love and your family. It’s always a little more than that, it’s always something very close to the heart, and it always let’s you know that for sure, Life is Beautiful.

5 Responses to “Mahalaya”

  1. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    You ind "dancing shoes" that must be a sight though actually never seen you dance, so might turn out to be not so bad after all.

    And yeah I can hear the Bong in the neighbouring cubicle talk to his parents for a looong time on the phone precisely since it is Mahalaya. Actually after KGP it sort of signified homecoming for me as well.

    And whyever not are you in Kolkata now ??

    By the way theres a fundoo review of Gangster on the blog, go ahead and read it.  

  2. # Blogger Rajesh Rana

    Happy Durga Puja....  

  3. # Anonymous aru

    osaadharon laglo pode !.. hoito bhabna gulo miley gelo bolei emon ta holo  

  4. # Blogger sushilsingh

    Hi, all friends

    'Nav' means 'nine' and 'ratri' means 'night', thus, 'Navratri' means 'nine nights'. There

    are many legends attached to the conception of Navratri like all Indian festivals but

    all of them are related to Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother Goddess) and her various

    forms. Though it is one of the most celebrated festivals of Hindu calendar, it holds

    special significance for Gujratis and Bengalis and one can see it in the zeal and fervor

    of the people with which they indulge in the festive activities of the season.


  5. # Blogger sushilsingh

    Hi, Friend

    Navratri, the festival of nights, lasts for 9 days with three days each devoted to

    worship of Ma Durga, the Goddess of Valor, Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and

    Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. During the nine days of Navratri, feasting

    and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities amongst the Hindus.

    Evenings give rise to the religious dances in order to worhip Goddess Durga Maa.  

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