One of most difficult questions I’ve been asked is ‘Where are you from?’. I’m from nowhere. Never had a chance to crawl in a particular soil for too long. My tentacles couldn’t absorb nutrients of a culture. I don’t recollect a festival being ‘celebrated’ at home. Diwali was for crackers and holi was fun with classmates. I got married to a Bengali and discovered Durga Puja.
‘If you look into her eyes for a while, she’ll descend into you’
I’ll not go in the details of the rituals ,for the simple reason, I know nothing about them. Whatever I’ve learnt, is from my wife and the internet. There is a lot of information, stories, history available online. My journey is as an ‘Outsider’, whose involvement is perhaps as intense as Camu’s Meursault; a little perplexed, drifty and continuously astonished .
During the Puja our household transforms. A distinct feminine air pervades. This time of the year is when I help install safety pins on my wife’s sari pallu. She converts from a working woman to a dazzling lady. A rustle of Dhakais, Jamdanis and Balucharis bring a crispy joy. Later at the pandal one sees more. Brocades, jacquards and georgettes beam in beautiful colours .
Our’s is the Greater Kailash 2 Durga puja. It is on the periphery of a dense affair which happens at the core of C.R. Park. Despite being on the outskirts, it is well attended, thanks to the tireless work of our Puja committee members.
At the end of the day, it is the fervour and a belief in the supremacy of a mysterious power which makes this festival so special. It is a celebration of existence and its radiance.
People throng and reach out to the divine, not in fear but as its children.
One intriguing ritual is when the Goddess is given some privacy while she’s having her food. I was not allowed to take pictures of the event, but sneaked some when they were drawing the curtains.
Perhaps every entity ( including you and I) is moulded of earth. So is the Goddess.
Then fashioned by the Gods, she cascades as a bright plasma of colour and sparkles, riding her lion, towering to slay the evil which tries to change from one form to another.
Our triumph is in celebration of the Mother and we do it with panache.
Samrat is our star performer. His very being is soaked in the nectar of Durga Puja. The priests in his presence are acolytes as he leads the way with his devotion. My son is already participating and giving him company.
Prithvi is five. His electrons spin in the direction of Puja. He waits for the event eagerly and cannot miss any moment of it. We have to take regular excursions to where a lot of idols are made, well before the Puja begins.
This is how the festival makes him levitate. I am happy there is a culture which flows inside him, something which I have missed in my life.
At the heart of Durga Puja is the Dhunochi dance. A lovely display of sound and steps in a hazed out atmosphere. I found it very challenging to photograph. Smoke, light and silhouettes have created ample drama to surprise me every time I have taken pictures of the event.
And how can Prithvi be left behind?
Some more pictures of the Dhunochi.
At the end there are two very intriguing rituals. Its the ‘Shidur Khela’ and ‘Kumari Puja’. I cannot elaborate on either significance or meaning of the two, but both are a delight to photograph.
In Shidur Khela women smear vermillion on each other. For Kumari Puja a young girl is worshipped.
After these two rituals, prayers and festivities are wrapped up and the Goddess is taken to a river and consigned to its water. From what I understand, it is a symbolic reunion of the Goddess with lord Shiva.
Despite being an outsider, I have found this event heart rending. One day we have to let go which is dear.
But even the sombre turns into a carnival and mundane appears absurd at the Visarjan. The fervour is mind numbing. This is India.
I missed it last year. This time I was shocked to see cranes pressed into service. It might be convenient, but for a photographer, it was disastrous.
If this is how we continue to strap mother nature , then one day she will rise in her splendour to wipe us out.
And all our shows of reverence will be futile.
My comment is not on the Puja celebration and its ecological impact, but our general attitude towards nature.
I thank and congratulate those who have kept this tradition alive. I am happy my son is a part of it.
And as usual, I’ll be blinking from the other side, happy as an outsider.