This year I went to Boston to celebrate Durga puja with my cousin sister. Boston Durga bari’s Durga Puja is a beautiful four day affair that brings back memories of Durga puja of home. The ambiance, the joy, the rustle of new clothes, the trendy blouses, the designer kurta pajamas, the elegant sarees, the intricate jewelry, the smoke of dhunuchi and the crowd – all of these evoked the quintessential pujo feelings. If it wasn’t so cold as soon as one stepped outside the mandap (the tent in the parking lot of Braj Mandir Temple) in Holbrook, MA, one could totally feel like one was in a ghoroya puja of Kolkata.
I have my own unique relationship with the goddess. I don’t feel the need to participate in pushpanjali, or boron or any kind of ritual. My relationship with Durga is not one of a devotee and a deity. It is much more personal. To me, she is an embodiment of my memories of special four days every year. She is a feeling in my heart that is precious and invaluable. It is hard to explain. She is also a symbol of everything that I consider good. She is the divinity that, I hope, resides within me and within others. Every year, her celebration, reminds me to nurture this divinity within me and slay my inner demons so I am kinder, more considerate, less judgmental. Durga is also shakti – power. Those who wrote the Vedas knew the inherent power that women possess so they made a woman the symbol of power. Durga is all powerful yet when she comes to us she comes as the daughter of the house coming to her ‘baaper bari’ (her parents’ house). She is our beloved girl as well as the epitome of ‘mighty girl’. We do not worship her because we fear her. We worship her and love her because she is our very own, our dearest girl who assures us, inspires us, loves us and also blesses us. At least, this is how I relate to her.
During the four days of Durga puja, I sat far away from the idol while devotees stood in line to see a glimpse of Durga’s face. I admired the fashion, the jewelry, the little children instead of focusing on the mantras and the aarti. When everyone had left late at night and my sister was busy arranging the kitchen for next day’s massive preparation of food, I walked over to the front of the tent where the idol of Durga was placed decked with weapons in her ten arms and adorned with jewelry. The repentant ashura sat at her feet looking up, seeking forgiveness. And Durga had forgiven him. Her eyes, in this particular idol, radiated kindness, assurance. I bowed my head in front of the idol made of clay. But in reality, I bowed my head in gratitude for all the memories that her advent to the world has gifted me. She is my ‘shorot kal er neel akash’ (the blue sky of autumn), she is my ‘kashphul’ (according to Google, wild sugarcane that grows in Bengal during autumn), she is my smell of new clothes, my puja vacation from school, she is my mother’s laughter and my father’s relaxation, she is my memories of first crush and beating heart, she is my intolerable crowd, my pandal hopping, my Kolkata lights. She is the blisters on my feet due to new shoes, the rustle of my new clothes. She is my delicious street food and outing with friends. She is my counting pocket money to see how far that will take us. She is the crowded traffic on the streets, the red ribbon on the hair of the little girl who lives on the streets with her homeless family. She is the ‘bonedi barir pujo’. She is house full of relatives. Mostly, she is my feeling of joy and love and family.
She is all these memories that I keep in my heart all year and take out to savor during these four days every year. I will never get them back but I am so blessed that I have them forever.