On Friday, it was Dussehra. This festival marks the end of Navratri, it was time for Goddess Durga to be immersed and I was sad to see her go. Dussehra is also the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, with the help of Goddess Durga herself. Here Nagpur, the festival has a third significance…
Dussehra also marks the day when Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and it happened right here in Nagpur. Who was Dr. Ambedkar? Dr. Ambedkar was a Hindu born of “low caste”, even though he was a great freedom fighter (during the fight for independence from the British), still Brahmins didn’t let him in their temples because of his caste. This prejudice infuriated him, so he converted to Buddhism and it is estimated that three million low-caste Hindus followed him and converted too. These days temples in Nagpur are open to every caste, but sadly many people still hold prejudice against lower caste people.
So, during Dussehra thousands of Buddhists, who would otherwise be low-caste Hindus, come to Deekshaboomi in Nagpur for a pilgrimage, a sacred Buddhist monument designed by Dr. Ambedkar.. People come from miles around in the back of trucks, on foot, in buses and trains to visit the monument on this special day. When I first moved to Nagpur, the Dalai Lama came to visit Deekshaboomi, sadly I didn’t know anything about it until the next day, I would have loved to get a glimpse of him!
Back at my house, we have several Dussehra traditions but I was not feeling good. On the day that Lord Rama killed his demon, I was fighting mine. Mine doesn’t have ten heads like Ravana. my demon is a black mist that falls like a blanket over everything, he’s called depression.
Depression can hit you when you least expect it, especially when he has visited so many times before (I guess he knows the way by now). I have had an absolutely fabulous couple of months. I have started to get involved with festivals, my volunteer work and my relationship with my mother-in-law has drastically improved. My anxiety disorder has practically gone as I have been facing my fears (India has a way of forcing you to do that!). My regular visits to my local Goddess Durga temple during the last couple of months has helped me connect with my spirituality and feel contentment.
During the day of Dussehra, there are flowers everywhere! Heaps and heaps of them, especially orange marigolds, my absolutely favourite. Nagpur; covered in flowers, parades taking Goddess Durga to be immersed, music and pilgrims. Things I love to see, but I felt a disconnect, as if I were seeing it all in black and white. The sudden onset of depression is scary, especially when you cannot account for it. The dull sadness which swallows up everything, which makes you just want to scream.
After Lord Rama defeated his demon, he went straight to a Goddess Durga temple to thank her for her guidance and strength. In the evening my husband and his father went to the Goddess Durga temple, just as Lord Rama did. My mother-in-law and I waited at home to welcome them when they returned, just as Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, did. My husband wore a traditional Marathi hat, which looked completely ridiculous on top of his curly hair, to receive my welcome. The small ceremony involved me putting turmeric, kumkum and rice on his forehead and a rotating a silver tray, carrying auspicious items and a flame, around him. Seeing his face and that ridiculous hat brought the day’s first genuine smile to my face.
Depression is an ugly and very misunderstood demon. This time though, depression was accompanied by a guest, someone he doesn’t usually associate himself with. Very small but as bright as the flame I greeted my husband with, Hope. I know that this will pass and I will be okay again soon. It’s just as if my happiness took a little holiday, leaving behind only a note saying ‘I will be back, had to take a break, I’ve been around far too much recently!’. I feel that slowly but surely, I will vanquish this demon completely, he is getting weaker each time we meet.
Now Navratri is over, Goddess Durga has returned to her heavenly abode but just like my happiness, she’ll be back again soon! Here are some photos I took during the nine nights of Navratri, Goddess Durga defeating her demon: