Memories of Durga Puja..

Today is Saptami, the 7th day of Durga Puja, but before I say anything else, I want to thank all of you for your wonderful suggestions and tips! Will try out all these and will definitely let you know how it goes! Our Blog world is awesome! Thank you again!

When I was growing up, Saptami was a much awaited day. I grew up in Jamshedpur, which has a huge Bengali presence and Durga Puja used to be celebrated with a lot of pomp and show. In our colony, there used to be several pooja pandals.  According to my friends, who had been to Kolkatta during Pujas, we had better ones – but I am sure they are biased 🙂 The first indication that the Pujas are not far away would be several pooja committee members coming to our houses for contribution to their puja  fund. If we contribute, we would get a token, to take to the pandal for Bhog.

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 – even with our colony.  Some of them were so artistic!  The festive feeling would be in the air. There would be discounts in stores. Most of my friends were Bengali, and would be discussing the new clothes they got and the ones they bought for gifting.. 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 irritating 🙂

The idols were totally awe-inspiring. Magestic looking Ma Durga poised triumphantly over Mahishasur! What better symbol of the power of a female goddess! It saddened me deeply when I heard that later, some idols were given features of Bollywood stars. Surely, there has to be a limit to commercialization? At that time, everything seemed wonderful – the aarti, the drums 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?

But Saptami day was what I used to wait for. It was on  Saptami day, that we would all start visiting pandals. The main side attraction would be all the gol-gappas , chats,  egg rolls, which even my majorly hygiene conscious mother would not object too much to, during the puja days. My parents could never fathom, how, we would gulp down spicy chaats , 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.

Saptami and Ashtami, we would go out only in the evenings. Ashtami day, we would keep our books in the temple, for Saraswati Pooja.  So until the Pooja is over on Dashami day, we do not read or write, or do anything that is considered ‘skill based’. So for most Malayalis I knew, it used to be heaven. No studying. For me, it was a torture. I was not too bothered by the ‘no studying’ bit, but I had to read. I could not survive a day without reading and was too scared to cheat.  My mother used to be very strict – not even reading the newspaper was allowed – I used to be like an drug addict, who was denied her fix 🙂  Navami day, we would go out with friends in the morning to the pandals. I suspect,my mother must have been glad to have me out of her hair too. That used to be the only bright side for me. So we used to hog all the junk we could, get on every possible ride.. it used to be so much fun. Evenings again would be with parents and family friends. Pujas seemed more an excuse to have all the fun in the world than to do with anything religious at that point in time 🙂

And then came Dashami. We used to go the Temple for the Saraswati puja. All my Bengali friends used to go to the pandals to bid Ma Durga goodbye until next year. The evening would be full of going over to friends place for the traditional sweets and Ghugni and platters of sweets that friends would drop off at our place. I can’t begin to state, how much I enjoyed those days.. And to think that it has been more than 15 years since I last did all this.

This year, we plan to go to some Durga Pujas near here. The other half of the couple, we celebrated Onam with, is a Bengali, so we plan to celebrate Durga Puja with them this year. Happy Pujas to all of you! And do let me know how you plan to celebrate too.

Vidyaarambham in Mookambika

Solilo has written about the custom of Vidyaarambham amongst Malayalis. It refreshed memories for me, of my daughter’s Vidyaarambham in the Sri Kollur Mookambika Temple in Mangalore, during our last vacation to India.

Normally, as Solilo has mentioned,the parents or other elders present , perform the initiation by writing ‘Om hari sree ganapataye namah’ on Vijayadashami day. In some cases like ours, where my husband was travelling at that time, one of the places that people go to do the Vidyaarambham done, is the Sri Kollur Mookambika Temple in Mangalore. Here, in this temple, Vidyaarambham can be done at anytime of the year. The temple is in the middle of a forest, and for miles before we reach it, it is quite a thick forest land. It is at the foot of the Western Ghats and on the banks of the River Sauparnika. People generally wash their feet at the River and then proceed to the temple.

The temple has an interesting history. Apparently Adi Shankaracharya, meditated in the Himalayas to Vaishno Devi. When she appeared, he begged of her, to come down to Kerala where he wanted to set up a place of worship for her. She agreed, on the condition, that he would have to lead the way, and not look back to see if she were following.  She said, that if he did look back, then she would stay where she was and not go any further.

So all through the journey, Adi Shankaracharya, kept leading the way, and he could hear the Devi’s anklets , so he knew that she was following. Then when they reached Kollur, the sound of the anklets stopped. So he turned, and as promised, the Devi stopped where she was. After a lot of beseeching, she agreed to come further and set abode in Chottanikkara, near Ernakulam in Kerala. On the condition that another place of worship would be created for her at Kollur where she stopped. Apparently, the Aarti is first done and completed at Kollur before it can be done at the Chottanikkara Temple.

The Kollur Mookambika temple is apparently completely packed by devotees wanting to get their children’s Vidyaarambham done on Vijayadashami day. We did not go on that day, but our driver was telling us about how when he took his son for his Vidyaarambham, on Vijayadashami day, it was so crowded that not a single hotel or lodge was available, they actually stayed with some priest’s family. Apparently this happens quite a lot.

When we went, it was not ‘peak’ season, so it was a wonderful experience. The priest who did the Vidyaarambham was wonderful, he recited the shlokas and translated it for the benefit of anybody who did not understand and it was done in such a pious way, that I just could not take out my camera to take a pic.  It was one of the few times, that I felt rather spiritual and moved. And it is one of the customs, that have a special place in my heart. Although I don’t have pictures to show my daughter, I do hope to take her there again to show her and let her experience it for herself again.