Yesterday we popped to the supermarket to buy some paneer (I made paneer tikka last night!). During Navratri, we have visited some of the hundreds of pandals in Nagpur. A pandal is a tent type structure, built with bamboo and fabric, which holds an idol inside. I guess you could call them temporary temples where Lord Ganesh is worshipped during Ganesh Chaturthi, and Goddess Durga is worshipped during Navratri.
Last night we came across a Bengali celebration called ‘Durga Puja’. I have heard so much about Durga Puja, I really needed to see this! Durga Puja is celebrated during the last four days of Navratri, this festival is all about good triumphing over evil! Last night, Durga puja began!
During Durga Puja, Mother Durga is a worshipped in her opulent, ten armed, warrior form! The Bengali way of making idols is beyond breathtaking and, unlike the Marathi style, she is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesh and Kartikeya (the second son of Parvati and Lord Shiva). The small details, the huge eyes, the ornaments, the long curly black hair… spectacular! Durga Puja for Bengalis is what Diwali is for the rest of India, prior to the festival there are months of excitement, anticipation and preparations!
Goddess Durga comes to Earth for her devotees! The legend of Durga Puja (because I am all about knowing the legends behind these festivals) goes a little like this…
Mahishasur, a Buffalo Demon, persistently prayed to Lord Brahma for many years. Lord Brahma saw his devotion and granted him his biggest wish, to become invincible Once he got what he wanted, he started a ravenous rampage across the world, destroying everything he came in contact with. Once the world was ruined, he wanted to kill the Gods themselves. The Gods created a force more powerful than Mahishasur, the divine feminine, Goddess Durga. In each of her ten hands she carried the most deadly weapons on heaven and Earth, and she destroyed that undestroyable demon.
Goddess Durga later blessed Lord Ram, in the Hindu epic The Ramayana, just before he killed the demon Ravana who has holding Lord Rama’s wife hostage. On Friday, there is another festival (yes, Hinduism has a lot of festivals!) to celebrate Lord Ram’s victory! Here in Nagpur, a huge model of Ravana is going to be burnt to the ground!
Inspired by the first Bengali pandal, we went to visit a second! Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful!! The Bengalis really know how to make idols! I could have spent hours looking up at her face, the beauty of Goddess Durga was completely overwhelming. I am lost for words to describe it further, just look for yourself…
There is usually a flurry of excitement when people see a foreigner among them, but this time we got a little more than we expected. As we were worshiping the idols, one of the men in the pandal asked us to offer some coconuts to Goddess Durga. I love Goddess Durga, so I was enthusiastic to do so! We then found ourselves dressed up red material (I don’t know if it has as special name), which had been blessed by the Goddess, and our photograph being taken by several people!
We had just popped to the supermarket to get paneer, I hadn’t a speck of makeup, my hair was a messy (luckily they wanted to cover my head), I had even forgotten to put on a bindi before going out! I guess you should always be ready for anything, life in India is a lot of things, but boring? Never!
Once we were back in the car, with our coconuts and blessed material, my husband said how awkward it was because he didn’t know what was going on, these traditions are Bengali and he is Marathi. The confusion and attention hadn’t bothered me, then I realised that the majority of my life in India involves: awkwardness, too much attention and utter bewilderment! I guess I have become accustomed to it. Progress!
‘Welcome to my world’, I said.
It’s now one of my dreams to spend Durga Puja in Kolkata, Bengal! The birth place of Durga Puja, Kolkata is where the festival really comes alive, with over two thousand pandals, street lights and parties. Hopefully next year! Happy Durga Puja everyone!!!