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What does Durga Pujo mean to a progressive working mother, who is reinterpreting the traditions for her own daughter? Read on!
Being a working mom each day for me is an art of balance. My art of balance is not just about time and expectations but also about new and old, rituals and logic, patriarchy and rebellion. My everyday balancing act dwells between what to keep and what to toss at work, at home, in relationships, in traditions, and in beliefs.
This art of balance takes another dimension during Durga Pujo – the main festival of Bengal to celebrate the homecoming of Goddess Durga to her father’s house and her killing of Mahisasura! Durga Pujo holds a lot of stories and substance for the Bengali woman in me.
Durga Pujo is like a compass for my relocation loaded life, where I have snapshot memories of Durga Pujo being celebrated in our village, Army Cantonments, Ramakrishna Missions, Indian embassy houses in Europe and in Housing societies or Bengali associations in different states of India; the common and essential component – a ten handed goddess and lots of enthusiasm.
In spite of Hindu rituals and mythologies that I have grown up with during this 4-5 days festival, I have turned out to be a non-ritualistic person through my education, work and travels. I take a distance from rituals and question them, I pick and choose and create my take about this festival – the memories which my daughter will grow up with.
Celebrating the Season – Autumn and Pause: Just after the monsoons in India, this time of the year the sky takes the colour of a new blue, the trees have hues of fresh green, there are blooms of red and yellow flowers, and the Indian sun is milder. In other parts of the globe also, the fall colours and milder temperatures makes this time of the year more special. So Durga Pujo for me is time to pause from work, look around, and enjoy nature’s colours and sounds. Acknowledge Mother Nature’s bounty towards us.
Give, de-clutter and décor: This is the season to give away things that I am not using anymore but still can be re-used and recycled. We clean up and find ways to bring more colour and create spaces at places that we have stayed over the years. This year while cleaning her room, my daughter commented – cleaning means going through all of your old things! I follow the same ritual at my workplace too.
Collect and exchange memories and gifts: Like any other Bengali, my Durga Pujo is not really complete if I don’t buy special Pujo sonkha of Bengali Magazines. During some years when I could not get hold of Bengali Magazines I bought English books written by authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri. I collect some form of Indian home décor, or artifacts or ethnic wear – my way of continuing to tell the India story to my daughter and her friends. Gifting is another part of any festival and I pick this ritual with my full heart.
Read and Watch: With some vacation days in hand and school holidays, we definitely engage in reading and catch up on watching some series or cinema, to connect with the Bengali language – which we don’t use for our work and livelihood. We find new genres of reading and share the stories, persuade others to come out of the comfort zone and try to read and watch something new. My all time favorites to watch are Titli ( in Bengali, a mother daughter story, starring Aparna Sen and Konkona Sen Sharma), or tear-inducing short films like Devi!
Connect and reach out: Two of the strongest rituals of Durga Pujo are on Mahalaya – when homage is paid to the ancestors and after the visarjan of Goddess Durga i.e., on Vijay Dashami – when people go to each other’s houses, share good wishes with sweets and savories. Festivals are time to reach out to old friends and relatives; our big joint families are scattered now, cousins and childhood friends are at faraway places. I make it a point to connect at this time of the year and create new bonds. This is also the time where I don’t fail to exchange seasons greetings with ex – colleagues.
Finally the Pujo, retelling the stories through rituals and food: Yes, Durga Pujo is not complete without gorging on various food flavors, specially this being a harvest festival too and visiting Pujo pandal. Pushpanjali (offerings of flowers to god), seeing aarati (fire, flowers and earthly offerings) and Sandhi Pujo (the moment when Durga won over Mahisasura), Dhunuchi nach, Cultural programs, and visarjan are a few rituals that predominate. These four days, I retell the mythological stories to my daughters as I want to tell her, point out to her the patriarchal nature of the Sanskrit Mantras, the connection to native traditions of India, the influence of Indo-Aryans and other religions, differences of castes inherent in Hinduism and its impact.
I also point out overall how the community form of Durga Pujo that we celebrate today is just little more than 100 years old and thus, how festivals are nothing but a bearer of changing traditions.
Top image credits Sayamindu Dasgupta, used under a Creative Commons license