I am a hardcore Bihari and we celebrated Durga Pooja with a lot of gusto. As I was growing up I imbibed every tiny bit of this festival in my bloodstream.I remember we had ‘Durgachalisa’ read out by a designated Panditji all the 9 days, culminating with an absolutely purifying hawan. When I moved on to my husband’s house, my in-laws infused the same spirit of Pooja in us and their mindfully built nest, with sincere devotion and an amazing disposition towards veneration and devotion to God which is known as भक्ति.
My mother-in-law would plant जौ on the first day as we would wait with bated breath for it to break out and blossom in its most verdant green. She n I , whenever I happened to be with her,would fast on the 1st n the महाअष्टमी day!
Once I observed fast for the whole 9 days and swore I would never do it again..😅.. wily nily my devotion to ma dame, Durga! It was severe. But in doing so, whether my energy got sapped is not the thing in question..the thing I remember is , that I realised strength and a quiet clarity, I felt light on my feet and really as if my ego dissolved somewhere over the previous 9 days and wafted in thin air..
We felt completely blessed amidst the Pooja atmosphere playing out in front of our eyes back then in Patna. The atmosphere was so pious you just felt and automatically , inadvertently partook in the activities around the main Pooja. I have no doubt it was a small screenplay of some supreme Godly scheme you cannot even begin to take measure of! As children, we bought new clothes, for Ashtami, Navmi, Dashmi and did Pandal hopping like a sport!😀
It was a time for family get togethers. Everyone had an idea and their take on doing it.We were absolutely kicked about it. Patna has every nook n cranny of the city decorated for this absolutely booming and grandiose festival.With the deafening sound of the loudspeakers blaring and full on ‘Devi mantras ‘and ‘shloka ‘ incantations clashing between two locales. Like they were competing with one another. You have to agree,we just outshine every other festival in the world with this one! I cannot not mention the importance of Bollywood music during festival times in India, especially during Navratri. It permeated every level..always playing the lead role in local public domain. Then, there was ‘Ma’ , adorned and revered in various shapes, eyes forms and material.
The sculptors would use various materials to fabricate the ‘Devi’ who would get them the best deal! कहते हैं ना,लक्ष्मी उल्लू पे सवार हो कर आती हैं और धन की वर्षा करती हैं.. quite literally for the craftsmen! There were Devis made of bizarre materials and this and that and various other means. But my favorite always would be pure terracotta..with large kohl laden gentle, mellow eyes.. the puckering ‘raudra ‘ eyes and the ‘saumya’ kind eyes. I love Ma Durga. When I didn’t have a picture of one in my fauji home I especially got a vintage one,gone sepia tinted from neglect. Yes, I chose that one up from a humble,old shop back home in Thakurbadi Road.😀 I learnt to light the ‘Akhand deep ‘ from my association with an Air Force officer’s wife called Poonam, who would do it with such perfection…while I struggle till date to keep the wick up. Practice. Practice Practice.
On all 9 days I would peek into my Pooja room furtively to check on my sincerely lighted ‘akhand diya’..Good times!😀
This was the time for our family to gather and make plans as to how we propose to do pandal hopping and what time would be the best to venture out?! It gave us so much joy this activity! From Rajendra Nagar to Nala Road to Bhikna Pahadi to Patna Collegiate.. we would traverse the whole length and breadth of it. Starting from Saptami till Navmi..different days different directions, sometimes on foot, sometimes by bike and sometimes by car…crawling on the four wheeler, hardly moving but never tiring out of the चकाचौंध!😀 We chose post midnight ..and walked on foot mostly, the crowd was absolutely maniacal and maddening! The lights, music , shamiyana, prasad, people, आरती, all enthralled us into their fold. We looked with awe-struck eyes, agape at all of the fanfare and particularly ‘Ma Shakti’ who would be shown to us killing ‘Mahishasur’ with such finality. It brought everything to an intense ‘curtains down’ culmination. There was a ‘Bengali Akhara ‘ also which was a must for us to visit every year. It had the two bare bodied men playing the ‘Dhaki’ swaying as if in trance and hypnotised playing the beats which grew faster and louder with each passing moment and seemed to rise in tempo and rhythm directly proportional to the magnitude of the people watching them. We tiptoed as kids to watch the spectacle! And what a marvellous spectacle it used to be! Then there was that empassioned, incense burning ‘Dhunuchi’ dance n the bhog for the bhadralok! I loved the big bindi and the broad Lal padh saree..which the Bengali women wore.Later, my wardrobe boasted of a similar combination Baluchari saree which I wore on many occasions .
It was the quintessential symbol of Ma. I wish I could watch the ‘Sindoor Khela’ in person in Bengal and alas, be a part of it but ne’er mind! The whole Pooja came to an astounding end by us watching the ‘Ravan vadh ‘ in the large crowd gathering where people assembled on ground, atop buildings and perched up on electric poles and fences just to see the precise moment when our man of all men, Ram , pulls the firing arrow to kill the doomed boys of Satan – Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhkarn. Personally, I feel Vibhishan was the worst of all three but that later..😀 The atmosphere used to be electrifying. My Dad would ride us in his Enfield bullet,and have us sit on his shoulders to make us watch that nick of time.. We would clap thunderously as our hero would make an immaculate presentation of his strength and valor. That actors who play these part prepare throughout the year I’m told to perform this act which is over in minutes. (so much of faith working on every level, it’s humbling) On second thoughts, I feel, it could be pure demonic ,sadist desire in children to see things go up in flames.. for which we clapped!! Whatever!🙄 People would walk miles to watch this grand show of triumph of good vs evil.Often barefoot. I remember we would walk back to our vehicles with such heavy heart. I felt it like a surge of collective emotion there’s no getting away from.. like a huge chapter of ten days has been performed, written and neatly folded and kept in the recesses of our mind.. There’s nothing to say, Durga Pooja was grandiloquent in its style, beauty, hustle bustle, piousness and grace. Year after year.
And no two festival times could be replicated. It was always new and dynamic. I miss those times.
Writer : Pooja Sinha
(Graduation in Pol.Science from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, 1997, Diploma in Fashion Design from NIFT, Bangalore,2001. Worked at Tagore International School, New Delhi 1997. Started Montessori School called “Toddlers” at Baroda Air Force Station, 2005 also worked at the Riverside School, Ahmedabad as a Teacher,2008-09. In 2015-16 worked as a Teacher at the Harvest International School, Jassowal, Ludhiana.)