Vijayadashami - Celebration in the heart!
To understand the festivity of navratra and the enthusiasm of the festival, one has to be Indian. You cannot be untouched by the beauty and magic of the festive season if you stay in this country.
I have been a ‘probashi’ Bangali all my life, and yet the craze of the nine days of festivities has always been a time I look forward to all year, despite my complete Delhiite upbringing. Every year from July, I wait to in order to go out with my parents to buy new clothes. Hog on all the vrat food at Haldiram’s; aloo tikkis leading the list of favourites.
Oh! and the magic of pujas, you can be anywhere and the 5 days of Durga puja can only make you a proud Bengali. The pujas actually transcend boundaries of religion. It is not just the aaratis and pushpanjali. It is everything around – the smell of dhunochi, the sound of kansha and dhakis, the sight of food stalls serving the tastiest food, all the people dressed in their best.
It is the same with Dusherra too. Growing up in the 80s and 90s in Delhi meant that all your neighbours knew you; so on the day of Dusherra, it is always a double celebration. My mother would hold our hands tightly as the Durga was being immersed in the rather dirty Yamuna by the stronger men of the puja samiti. Chants of ‘Bolo Bolo Durga Maai ki’ would run high and loud. And slowly you would see the pratima float for a few seconds and then take the final plunge. Most of the times I had tears in my eyes, as the very figurine that brings with her the most joyous time of year was going away.
My mother would then get me ready for the evening and we would go to nearby Ramleela grounds; a final treat to a young girl who was fascinated by all the colours. She would buy me ramleela toys and masks. Probably, also treat me to a ride on one of the many that were brought into the grounds.
The understanding of the triumph of good over evil came much later. The legends were just fascinating stories of a king who goes to save his queen from a bad man or of a woman who saves the world, much like the Bollywood movies on television. I was so happy I could see the Ram I see in a little box every Sunday (Arun Govil of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan) right in front of me. Everything else was wiped clean of my mind.
If you walked down near the Tagore Garden Metro station in Titarpur in Delhi, you would come across a huge row of heads in bright neon colours lying on the pavement, with big eyes and big moustaches. They are being readied by the artisans for the Raavan burning that would take place on Vijaya Dashami. The artisans brave the heat and the rain of this season to make this spectacle, working meticulously on paper and bamboo effigies, knowing it would take minutes for all of it to be destroyed.
Much, much later in my life, I understood the significance of Vijaya Dashami. The gods and demons still don’t exist in these nine days for me. Even today it is the atmosphere that gets to me. As I watch the hundreds of Durga effigies being carried to a much dirtier Yamuna, ready to go back to Kailash; I can see young children dancing while parents shout at them to be careful. Kurtas have been replaced by T-shirts that are custom printed for each Durga Puja Samiti, but the ‘Durga Mai ki Joi’ shouts remain the same. There is heavy police presence and even life guards who are constantly on the watch for any freak accidents. There are thousands of people standing to watch the Goddess depart after the happiness she spread. Many are witnessed holding a dhunochi in front of the procession; many hold a ghanta, the dhakis stand near their respective tempo vans playing with madness and passion for hours, non-stop. Twenty men use their strength and the older men shout out instructions guiding the pratima into water, avoiding any mishaps. As Durga sinks the noises and the dust dies down. The bond of love that has tied us together for many decades, even in another city, will come back again – ‘Aashchhe bochhor aabar hobe’ (It will happen again the coming year).
I see my mother’s eyes mist over. I am pretty sure she is reminiscing of her younger days. I know she is reminded of how people have now floated away from each other, only to meet this time of the year for 5 days. How she and some of her best friends had drifted apart due to their marriages and children and work and the fast-paced rat race that we all run today. I go over and give her hand a squeeze. The more things change, the more they remain the same.