(Prof. Shanker Dutt of Patna, Bihar discusses the visible socio-cultural changes and why he looks forward to Durga Puja.)
While the fervour of Durga pujo is typically associated with Bengal, its importance in Bihar is substantial. The veneration of the mother goddess is particularly fever-pitch from Saptami to Dashami when the blue skies with fleecy white clouds and an early morning nip in the air combines with the aroma of incense and the sounds of percussion. The most popular mythological source of the Durga pujo legend is Lord Ram’s devoted worship of Goddess Durga to defeat Ravan. Satisfied with his committed devotion in offering his eye for the 108th black lotus, the goddess granted her blessings that resulted in the legendary triumph of righteousness.
In the celebration of Durga puja two legends coalesce. The first is Durga as the manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. Durga is the manifestation of Parvati’s Shakti that was created to triumph over evil by destroying demonic forces.
The other is Durga as a daughter on an annual visit to her maternal home riding a lion accompanied by her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik. It is this picture that is framed in the popular imagination and one that encourages familial and social cohesion. Durga puja is preceded by feverish shopping for garments and the subsequent exchange of gifts that transcends class barriers.
Preparation for the pujas begins long before the actual days of worship. Craftsmen and artists are employed to erect pandals and sculpt idols and compete for excellence. Many of these artists involved with the production of puja- art and accoutrements belong to different faiths and
hence this is a wonderful occasion for the celebration of harmony in pluralism.
Most pandals organize different kinds of competitions for children and the youth and many excellent talents are discovered. Music, dance and theatre programmes enable local talents to share the stage with the illustrious artists. There has been a change in the sculptured framing of the goddess and her family. This change is from constructing a single frame popularly known as dakshaaj in which all the representative divine personae including the lion and mahishshur are located to individual sculptures spread over crescent space. This may be related to the sociological changes that we have witnessed through half a century. With migration in search of gainful employment beyond rooted traditionalism, the joint family system has gradually been transformed into unitary families, usually with a limited number of offspring. Spatial limitations in housing have further accentuated this change. I believe that the change in Durga sculpting is connected with sociology.
There are three recurrent images of the Pujos that I have cherished since I regularly wore shorts. The uplifting rhythm of dhaks, the Ashtami lunch and Siuli flowers. When I went with my parents to the mandap especially on Ashtami, I invariably chose the Siuli flowers to offer to the goddess. I must confess I was absolutely delighted when, a few years ago, a former student named his daughter Siuli.
The Ashtami lunch is something I wait for the whole year through: Luchi, Begun bhaja, Chholar daal and Chanar dalna. It is that one occasion when I shamelessly disregard every wellness advice and publicly advertise my indulgence.
And the dhaks. They are the harbingers of harmony. There is something spiritual about the resonance. The rhythms radiate the coming together of people who wish to reach out and celebrate all that is good in this world. The pujos are a wonderful time of the year and it is not entirely chance circumstance that our daughter is named Tara.
And beyond the five days, I wait for next year’s Pujo.