In my culture, at the onset of any new beginning we worship or remember our God and Godesses (Hindu religion has one for every reason) for auspiciousness. Hence I thought being a ritualistic Hindu I should start my blog the very same way. Now the question came whom should I remember? Wow, we have quite an exhaustive list. Lord Ganesha (he’s got the first right to be worshiped before anyone in his clan) definitely, though sadly I don not have any strong memories of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi while I was growing up in Rourkela as it wasn’t a very popular affair in Orissa. So talking about popular festivities “Durga Puja” immediately brings back fond memories of festivity and celebrations. So I dedicate my first post to “Ma Durga” and my experience with the celebrations.
When Bapi (my Army dude Big B) and I were growing up, Durga Pooja was a much awaited affair of the year. The first sign that the Poojas were not far away would be REC (now NIT) Pooja Pandal Committee members coming to our houses for contribution to their Pooja funds. If we give, we would get a token, to take to the Pandal for “Sandhi Bhog” (Ashtami Prasad).
And then as the days near, there would be frantic activity in the grounds where the pandals were made. There used to be intense competition among the pandals. Some of them were so artistic! The festive feeling would be in the air. There would be discounts in stores. We would discuss the new clothes we got. And then the school holidays would start. Pandals would blare out Bollywood songs – which then used to be fun, now I find loud music very infuriating.
The idols were totally awe-inspiring. Magestic looking Ma Durga poised triumphantly over Mahishasur! What better symbol of the power of a female goddess! At that time, everything seemed wonderful – the aarti, the drums and symbols in the background, the smell of camphor in the air… And the bhog! Yum! What is it about prasads and bhogs that make them so delicious?
I used to wait for “Sashthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami”. It was on Sashthi day, that we would all start visiting pandals. The main side attraction would be all the gupchups (Pani Purris), Chaats, Egg Rolls, Dhaibara Aloodum, Googni which even my majorly hygiene conscious mother would not object too much to, during the Pooja days. My parents could never fathom, how, we would gulp down spicy chats, which were too spicy by most standards. And we could walk for miles without complaining. Normally family friends would gather together at a place and go Pandal visiting together. It used to be a treat to meet classmates or school mates and compare how many pandals we had done. Some of the pandals, along with the eating stalls, also had huge Melas with giant wheels and all sorts of rides and exhibitions of arts and crafts.
My favorite was always the Ashtami day, it marked the end of Navratra for Anu Aunty (our dear neighbor from Rajasthan) and I always used to look forward to “Kanjak” (A North Indian ritual where on the day of Ashtami people invite young girls to their homes, wash their feet and tie red color thread on their wrists. A tika is applied on the girl child’s forehead and are worshiped as Mother Goddess. The family members take blessing from the young child by touching their feet. The children are given ‘prasad,’ gifts and some money.) Pooja performed by her. I would eagerly wait for poori, kale channe ki sabzi and suji halwa prepared by her. Not to forget the gifts 😉 At home, Bou would ask me to prepare garlands for the Goddess and would teach me to prepare “Bhog” for Ashtami (poor thing never knew that all the teaching would never come into any use later :p).
Later when I got married into a Marathi family, the celebrations took a different turn. From the youngest one in the family who would wait for any festive occasion as an opportunity get her demands and wishes to be fulfilled; I had become a responsible elder daughter-in-law of the family who had the entire task of arranging and managing the whole chores. How equations change.
The Day of “Dasara” would begin with all the women folk waking up early, bathing and getting into their new set of clothes specially bought for the occasion. The entrance to the house and the Pooja Room is adorned with colorful Rangolis and Torans made of Marigold and Mango Leaves. As per Aai (my source of induction into Marathi culture), Dasara is considered as one of the 3 ½ auspicious days (Shubha Muhurta). It is proven over years and years that any new venture started on this day are bound to be successful. Hence in most parts of India Dasara is selected for starting a new businesses, construction activities (house, building, hospital), taking possession of new house, buying new vehicle, buying gold, booking the first order for the business etc. We, as a family also celebrate similarly. We worship knives, utensils, vehicles in honour of the Shubha Muhurta. The interesting feature to this celebration is offering of “Aapti Leaves” (Sona) to each other in the family. After the Pooja, the festivity is followed by special food for the occasion like, Narkel Nadu, Varan-Bhaat, Kaapa, Basundi etc.
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