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“Didn’t the scriptures tell the earth that the women of the earth are carved in the image of the omnipotent Goddess? Why, then, are their bodies and souls trampled, the filth and saliva of carnal hunger trickling down their skins?”
Look at me—am I the fragment of a flawed pearl, a resilient flower, or a tenderly crafted mystic? Do you see me carved in a mystic painting, or tiptoeing across derelict rooms, in my hands the nimble candlelight lit by generations of women, whom we call our predecessors? Stop right here! Do you see a long, slender corridor, leading all the way to a dead end, the air smelling of my warm musk, the butter that my mothers and grandmothers have churned, the leftovers of their instructions, dribbling down the drain? Yes, you may sneak in, the voyeur, and look into my winter-killed grass, frayed, stitched up, as I walk through the timeless annals of humanity.
“Why is red the color of sindoor? Why is it that the red coughs up in spurts, the alluring mist of myth surrounding the goddesses and the sati’s, narrated in the scriptures?”
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…I stand, stumbling over old, torn calendars, soaking up their odd, wordless triumph in households resembling each other like clones, for centuries. The household buzzes with the drugged concentration of rituals, rituals that have spelled to me, since my early girlhood, the mystic silence of Sita, the mysterious descent of the river Ganga, the elemental burst of energy of Mahamaya Durga and Chandi, the surreal shadowy light and rage of Draupadi. In crowded corners today, several voices cut across me…I sink, deeper and deeper, into the history, myths and obscurity of my genealogies…
…The fluffy, ivory clouds of the October sky stretched into the horizon. My child ears swooned over the ethereal
chanting of Virendrakrishna Bhadra, echoing in the old transistor, slicing the hushed silence of the dawn to shreds. “Maeshechhen…” (Ma Durga is here), the elders said, invoking her in the Bengali month of Ashwin. We floated around, animated, enthused, dressed up in new clothes, brimming with devotion to offer flowers at the feet of Goddess Durga, the daughter of the Kailash mountains.
…In the Mahaadashami night, the women assembled in red, gleeful faces before the idol immersion, in their hands, the red sindoor swirled and traipsed, smudging those ten mighty arms, those fiery red clothes and infinite power that they held on to, in their annual prayers. “Subho hok, oshubher binaash koro, Ma. Abaresho.” (Bless the world with your mighty goodness, Ma, ward off the evil always, as you come back to us again.)
“All girls and women are carved in Ma Durga’s image.” My maternal grandparents bowed before the live Durgas in flesh, in their genuine gestures of pranaam, while the young girls, decked up as the Goddess sweated and gasped in the smoke-filled October air…
…I panted, swaddled in the darkness, scalding, searing in my dreams as I tossed and turned over in my sleep. The Divine Mother ushered in my dreams, riding the fierce lion, hands full of weapons and a lotus flower. The supremely radiant Durga, the invincible feminine energy, the demon-fighting form awakened me with her meditative smile, her ten fiery hands. In my child eyes, her victory over evil in a cosmic rampage narrated inside the pandals by priests in Sanskrit slokas, her sword, her thunderbolt, her trident glittered. In my dreams, her superior form unleashed, slaying the devil Mahishasura, stark dead, surrendering.
“And so implored the Gods: Om namodevaye (Hail thee, Goddess), for a strikingly radiant female form to be born out of the trinity…Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswar.” The words of the frail, ancient priest resounded in the puja pandal.
…I remain the awestruck, earth-brown girl, the blindingly bright form of the goddess pulling me and my sisters, the
women who surrounded us in a gravitational force. The Durga who lingered in the lavishly lit pandals, the Durga who dazed me in sleep, with a quarter moon on her forehead, a red-golden glow on her skin. ‘Durga’, the Supernova, carrying sacred tools, empowered to create and destroy. Durga, the mother, the fierce protector with a bow for determination and focus, with an arrow, for penetrating insight, with a sword for discriminating
For eons, Durga has been the palpable diva, seated on, coming off the pedestal, her red vermilion smudged as demons have humped and howled, their terrorizing acts persisting. Whose tongues do I see, sticking out in the crescent flames of the night? I startle, perspiring. Is it the Buffalo demon (Mahishasura), whom my child eyes have stared at in terror, lying blood-splattered beneath the lion’s paws? Is it the horrifying, grotesque voice of the Shumbha-Nishumbha twin demons, the villains of my nighttime tales of the mad revelry of Goddess Chandi? Is it the stench of flesh-and-blood men, gnawing, clenching fists with some terrible hunger?
The priest’s holy chanting of the Markandeya Purana, the Hindu religious scripture echoed in the thin air: “The unique light, pervading the Three Worlds with its luster, combined into one, and became a female form…In the heaven and nether worlds, Durga became the supernova, as energies from the Gods united to throw out flames in all directions.”
…Who do I see, dancing, sputtering, rising like a flower of dark blades, at this twilight hour of diminishing humanity? Is she not Durga, the supreme feminine goddess, surrounded by an inferno of devils that threatens her, pulls her down with the crushing load of barbarity? Didn’t the scriptures tell the earth that the women of the earth are carved in the image of the omnipotent Goddess? Why, then, are their bodies and souls trampled, the filth and saliva of carnal hunger trickling down their skins?
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In the pallid water bodies of the Ganga, as the crazy mob immerses her, dancing in loosened circles, I have seen her kohl-smeared, tear-stained eyes. The Durga, the Supernova looks around, at the sinister veil of oppression and torment, the crushed vanity and impotence of a vain, decaying world. Painted across the pale night’s canvas, her proverbial three eyes melt into a sad, vulnerable disguise.
Author’s note: This is an excerpt from a chapter of my nonfiction novel/memoir Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey, published by Authorspress. In this particular chapter of the book, I dissect the images of Goddess Durga, the Mahamaya, the Supernova created by the omniscient, omnipotent male trinity Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwar, and question the depictions in our ancient mythology and epics that have fuelled in me the desire to enquire the essence of patriarchy. The book is available on Amazon India, Amazon US, and Flipkart and the manuscript has been a recipient of the Journey Awards 2014 (Category: Narrative Nonfiction), hosted by Chanticleer Reviews and Media, USA.
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Lopa Banerjee is an author, editor, poet and translator based in Nebraska, US. Her nonfiction
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