“You must go see the Durga Pooja, “said Reza.
“No, you don’t go. It’s too hot, humid and crowded and you are still coughing,” said Lisa.
“Go, you have one life, live it to the full,” said the bearded guru.
“Join me at 11 am, and we’ll go to Dhaka University. It’s not so crowded” said Shumon.
“Don’t take a lot of money with you, there are a lot of pickpockets,” warned the Guru
“Always, take a bottle of water,” said Zaman . … plenty of advice for me sitting on the fence, wondering should I go to the puja should I stay.
In Bangladesh, Durga Puja is the biggest Hindu festival, and today, 17 October, is the last day of the festivities. Many throng to temples and then carry the statues of their beloved goddess Durga to a river or waterway for the last ritual immersion in water.
My new untraveled path has many dragons and beasts and a few have been keeping me largely indoors in Dhaka. So what better day to slay my inner dragons and venture out in one of those ubiquitous rickshaws than this day when thousands rejoice at Goddess Durga’s win over the evil Maheshasoora the demon. The day for paying homage to the warrior Goddess.
My knowledge of Durga is scanty. I turn to a friend who says Durga literally means fortress in Sanskrit and is sought after for victory in life or in any given task. The feminine principle in Hinduism she is associated with dynamic movement while the male principle is associated with the still silence of enlightenment.
DrikNews quoting the Bishuddha Shiddhanta Panjika, the Hindu religious almanac says “this year the goddess Durga arrived on earth in a palanquin and will return on an elephant. Though the palanquin symbolises rough weather, the departure on an elephant indicates a good harvest.”
More searching on the Internet and I discover that Durga is an extraordinary powerful goddess in the Hindu pantheon of gods. She is the Mother Goddess and as such it is believed that she has manifested herself as Goddess Mahasaraswati, Goddess Mahalakshmi and Goddess Mahakali.
Interesting also to note from Wikipedia that these are the active energies (Shakti) of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra respectively and without these goddesses the male gods will lose all their powers and would not have the energy to lift a finger!!!..There’s more — the three forms of Durga further manifests in three more forms each, and thus emerged the nine forms of Durga, which are collectively called Navadurga or Nine Durgas. Thus it is this Navadurga that are famously worshipped during the Autumn Navaratri or Durga Puja.
As we ride the rickshaw to the Dhaka University grounds to see the festivities, I ask Shumon “Will people mind If I take their photographs”. He laughs and replies “Not unless they have a beard and a cap,” and then adds “I studied at a Madrassa for my HSC for two years but I love to learn about other religions. I go every year to the Durga Puja.”
Goddess Durga statue is beautiful, voluptuous as all goddess are and dressed in red. The red apparently is to signify that she is always busy destroying evil and protecting people from suffering. Most devotees have a touch of red in their clothes – some more than others. She is astride a tiger in most of her statues and is another symbol of the unlimited power she posses.
Then there are the eighteen arms — I think many of us women have wished for just one more pair so you could do the multitasking we are supposed to do as mothers and working women. Here Durga’s hands represent the combined power of the nine incarnations. In this statue, I see her with the trident and the evil demon cringing at her feet. All the weapons she carries in her hand such as a mace, sword, disc, arrow, and trident convey the idea that one weapon cannot destroy all different kinds of enemies. Different weapons must be used to fight enemies depending upon the circumstances. And these enemies are not physical ones but they are our attachments to possessions (thanha in Buddhism), avijja (ignorance), ego etc which must be destroyed.
The five days of the Puja are known as Shasti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami. “Each day is special in its own way and today is Dashmi, and the day of the Sindur Khela,” says Shumon. I am embarrassed about how little I know of Durgha puja although therer is a big Navaratri puja in Sri Lanka. “Today is when married women pray to the goddess with vermilion, betel leaf, sweets and smear each other with Sindur as they bid farewell to their Devi,” says Shumon adding that only married women can have the red smear in their hair.
There are bells to be rung, sweetmeats and colourful bangles to be bought and even a bubble blower that delights the child in many of us.