DURGA PUJA AT RURAL BENGAL
DURGA PUJA AT RURAL BENGAL
Devi Durga has been imprinted permanently in the Bengali psyche; and it seems today ‘Durga Puja’ is indeed the life-line for all the Bengalis all over the world. Along the flow of time, it is most probably only the ‘Durga Puja’ which has remained exclusively Bengali; ofcourse I am not talking about ‘Misti Doi, Rasogolla and Illish Mach Bhaja’ here. Apart from the great festivals, cuisine is another thing which has remained ethnic from almost time immemorial. But whereas cuisine has been deliciously invaded from nearby and distant shores like China, Thailand, Italy etc; Durga Puja remains stoically Bengali- to say the least. And in rural Bengal time tends to get stilled into eternity on the festival days. The ‘Agamani’ is actually a tune hovering about more than hundreds of years…
I have tried to delve into the time-less Goddess Durga for quite some time now, tried to capture images which appears unfrozen in any time frame. In Bengali this is usually termed as ‘Saswata Satya’. Now what is ‘Saswata’? Without taking the help of dictionary, my interpretation will be ‘Saswata= Jaha Satata-i Ghote’; ‘Saswata’in English then will be ‘events which happen naturally always’. So according to this line of thought (a non-dictionary one essentially) ‘Saswata Satya’ would mean ‘events (of truth) which occur naturally and as always’.
According to this line of thought Goddess Durga is always an event of truth happening naturally and as always for the Bengalis; that accords the ‘Saswata Satya’ status to Durga Puja for Bengalis. Here ofcourse truth is not exactly a scientific term, truth or Satya here is actually what man perceives. To be honest I am not keen to view the ‘scientific truth’ as the only form of acceptable ‘truth’ for mankind as a whole; for the simple reason that Science so far has never defined ‘love’, in fact ‘love’ should be a non-existent parameter in Science. So, there are plenty of gaps between the actual ‘truth’ and the perceived ‘truth’ whether scientific or not. Durga Puja appears to be the eternal truth for Bengalis.
Now what is ‘Saswata’ as per dictionary inference – ‘eternal’? Let us find out.
The dictionary meaning of ‘Saswata’ is something like indestructible, ever continuous and things like that. A similar word ‘Nitya’ has been used in dictionary. Now, ‘Nitya’ is a very interesting term indeed like ‘Nitya Karma’ (daily chores), ‘Nitya Diner Golpo’(everyday stories)- all these appears to be Saswata Satya or the indestructible truth of life. Well, if there is ‘Indestructible Truth’ in everyday life (Nitya Jiban?) which everyone of us live, then what actually the great philosophers like Aristotle, Plato to Jean Paul Sartre, Salvador Dali and Albert Camus or for that matter Karl Marx said to us? Well, I admit these days I am quite a bit fascinated by Hindu religion, actually a multi-dimensional truth, where the tenet of the religion allows one to be perfectly at sync with almighty just by carrying out his ‘Nitya Karma’ (daily chores) with due satisfaction.
It is interesting to interpret religion being an atheist. I do not know, but I have heard somewhere that, there is a sect in Hinduism who believes that ‘being an atheist is the highest form of devotion to Almighty’! Well, in ancient days, in fact even a few hundred years ago, great debates used to take place between Hindu religious scholars on these issues. The most poignant feature is that most (in fact almost all) of the super powers the Bengalis adore are in female forms. So far I have not come across any suitable explanation about this particular trend of Bengalis. Bengalis have a great penchant to move on to Goddess Laxmi, Goddess Kali and then to Goddess Saraswati after an elaborate tryst with Goddess Durga. Interestingly, all the female characters here remain fairly mysterious, inexplicable and of course divinely beautiful in one form or other. So, beauty, mystery and inexplicability are the divine attributes most rejoiced by the Bengalis over centuries.
So, Devi Gurga, with all her due magnificence has really remained a mystery to the Bengali psyche. Though ‘Godess Durga’ is a very real phenomenon, but she is quite inexplicable and shrouded with an aura of mystery. That has more or less remained our interpretation of ‘Durga’ and ‘Durga Puja’. So, Goddess Gurga turns out to be an undefined ‘Saswata Satya’ or an inexplicable eternal truth for Bengalis.
Wow, now things are getting a bit complicated, I reckon! ‘Undefined eternal truth’- oops that is quite a phrase indeed! But one can think on this from another angle too. ‘Is Truth at all a defined parameter?’- I know a whole lot of us will fumble on this.
I would infer that ‘Truth is never defined’ and Truth never did provide us with any answer to any of our questions. We have only learnt to cherish the spirit of Goddess Durga from hundreds of years of past.
Oh no; I never anticipated to be on a highly philosophical plane while writing about Durga Puja in one corner of district Birbhum centered around Bolpur-Santiniketan area. But, in one way or other we all tilt a bit along this philosophical plane during the Durga Puja days.
On a motorbike trip, just as usual like every other year, I came across a bit of terracotta pieces on the dilapidated temples of yesteryears in Raipur and Illambazar area to just acquire an idea about how people ensemble in festive times. I was just wondering about the ‘real mood’ of people of bygone eras.
Documentation of Durga Puja can be a useful activity in this fleetingly changing society. 100 years from now, everything around will change, as things have changed in last 100 years. This great festival needs some sort of documentation; and I would request everyone interested to record the events in a manner which can be accessed say 100 years from now; especially of the old Durga Pujas, and also Pujas at rural Bengal- both has a tendency to be in continuance with time.
The terracotta temple at Illambazar bore a forlorn look at the time of Durga Puja 2014, with most probably myself being the only unexpected visitor on Saptami morning. More about this later.
The twists and turns in rural Bengal is not only absorbing but a huge lungful of pristine Oxygen. In Durga Puja days rural Bengal is widely open armed to embrace anyone with a blissful grin. Whether you are on a bicycle, sedan or a motorbike hardly matters; be prepared for quite a few glassful of ‘Serbat’ and plenty of homemade sweets (oh absolute delight- made of pure condensed milk)! We have often wondered about the awful ‘identity crisis’- a ever pricking byproduct of modern civilized society. It feels good to summarily forget about one’s own ‘identity’ itself at the time of Durga Puja at rural Bengal. It is such a great reprieve from the grueling task of trying to incessantly locate one’s own ‘identity’ amidst such chaos in society these days.
The images of Durga Puja, ever so fleeting a festival, can be numerous to explore. Each year I add on to my collection not really knowing how to assemble them into a story. Feelings get mixed up abundantly. But incredibly some story can always be stitched together.
I never could grasp such rituals. Some would dismiss these images as pure illogical expressions. Well, these images remain etched in memory of each of us since our childhood. Such continuance of expressions, let us term them social expressions, however cannot be dismissed as illogical. These expressions are that ‘Saswata Satya’ we have delved before. Truth does not necessarily need logic – or do they?
Well, this can be another subject of a great philosophical debate!
These logically bizarre images are also a part of Durga Puja. Sometimes, at this juncture of this discourse on Durga Puja, it might be interesting to shift focus from Saswata Satya, logic and so forth to the world of artistic expressions. Is society a logical entity or if society is just an artistic & philosophical expression of human beings? Perhaps society is just an effort to nurture the concept of ‘beauty of living’ embedded deep in our psyches? Yes, why not?
So philosophy, whether logically inclined or artistically inspired, does play a part in our life; albeit sub-consciously most of the times. Personally ‘philosophy’ is not much comprehended a phenomenon to me; I only tend to get a bit carried away by situations and turn reflective at the best.
The duality of logic and art, especially for an ex-student of Santiniketan, has always been a perplexing reality.
The deity above is most probably the richest one in Birbhum district at Chotobari Surul. Each year Goddess Durga gets more silver/gold laden, but her smile never fades. In spite of all these ornaments the eyes and the personality of Goddess Durga remain beaming as ever. The inner strength of conviction wins hands down against all such costly peripherals. This is also a realization which I have always cherished about Goddess Durga- in whatever form she is her convictions run supreme. What a lady – really!
Along with power of convictions comes prosperity; to live a prosperous life we need to win! Though Hindus are generally perceived as a peace loving community, Hindu religion is one such religion which is replete with wars. This is quite a contradiction in itself. While Jesus preached mercy, a huge portion of Hinduism (though actually multi faceted) is based on philosophy of war itself. This is a facet of Hinduism not too much deliberated on these days.
Eventually it is time to say goodbye to the idols of Goddess Durga; only to resurface next year with added splendor. Next year, I intend to visit Kumartuli on one Sunday to capture the mood there. At one point of time in my life I used to cross the path of those idol makers almost on a daily basis; would like to rekindle the association.
And we would definitely forget Goddess Durga- or will we? Well, the logic of war, or the beauty of expressions, or the ‘Saswata Satya’ will just get sublime within us. We, the Bengalis will be propelled into time with this yearly booster to follow our trajectory in the cosmos of society spread all over the world. We would live and rejoice; and deep within us will always cherish the ‘beauty of living’.
Life in rural Bengal will remain drooling with an infectious easy pace. In spite of politics being a real spoilt sport these days; things will move on with the same ease or with the same difficulties. A spirit of war will remain ever kindled; anyway one would like to term that war- a war of freedom, a war of justice, a war of creative expressions…….
Subho Bijoya to everyone.