If Durga Puja is not the most colourful of all festivals, it surely is one of those. So far as the Bangalee Hindus are concerned, it is the greatest and most colourful festival to them. The untimely invocation of Goddess Durga by Rama in order to conquer Ravana of Lanka is a turning point in the war between the two, according to the epic Ramayana. Yet it is the Bangalees among the followers of Hunduism, who have picked up the theme for devotion to the goddess. In north and south India, Hanuman and Ganesh have respectively found their pedestal cemented for worship. Goddess Durga has not been favoured there in the order of precedence at all. This is quite intriguing.
In this respect the Bangalees have shown their ingenuity by inventing something extra to the divine. Divinity has been tempered with what can be called human relations or bond. Thus the Goddess Durga becomes a daughter incarnate –one who comes to visit her parental house every year in the Autumn with an entourage, actually her sons and daughters with the animals they use for their personal carriers. The demon and her own transporter lion accompany her as usual. In no other puja, such an assembly of gods and goddesses, an adversary and animals is present at a time. The spectacle cannot but be colourful and artistic because of the idols in their various shapes and sizes and in the mix of glows.
Durga Puja is still celebrated with perhaps as much fervour by some as it was done in the past. But something has, if noticed closely, gone conspicuously missing. It is the liveliness and spontaneity of the entire community that once made the festival special has all but vanished. Instead, the celebration has become a mechanical ritual with technology and modern gadgets taking over the soulful contribution and participation by devotees in their different capacities. Today, there is more money than before at the disposal of the puja committees or individuals who arrange one on their own. The government also give grants to organisers of a puja.
In villages, the preparation used to begin long before the festival time. Artisans of images called pauls had the contracts reached long before for taking the responsibility of image making. Usually pauls used to make images in a temple for generation and there was no need for entering into fresh agreements. From the time the straws were packed into the frame of the images, the tone was set. Then the minute details of the preparation of earth to be used for building the shape of images to the various stages of perfecting those into unblemished shapes were fascinating indeed. A child observer could discover in the process of creativity something unearthly artistic. Then came the moment of truth when colours were splashed one after another to express the divinity to the until-now human figures. It was like going through an orientation far removed from this mundane world.
Those experiences are hardly available now. In most venues of rituals, finished images are brought for the purpose and those are not only not finished enough but bear the cursory attempts to do the job commercially. The care and artistic touches are sorely missing from those images.
If the neglect to the choice of images can be ignored, where the transformation has been overly mechanised is in the area of the implements used for celebration. Amplifying sound boxes used for playing songs –mostly cheap and popular Hindi items –turn the puja into a veritable site of noise atrocity inflicted not only on people present there but within a range of a quarter of a kilometre. Lungi dance and such others have replaced the traditional arati (prayer in dance form). Thanks to the rural electrification, power supply has only allowed the promotion of the alien culture even more strongly. Local artistes are no longer invited and some of the cultural programmes once used to be an integral part are dispensed with.
Finally, dashahara that was the rendezvous of the images brought to compete with each other after the worship had been over has almost become a thing of the past. On huge boats the goddess with her entourage made her journey to the designated place of dashahara. A large number of such boats with their beautiful cargoes anchored side by side with the professional drummer playing the drums. At midnight the judges pronounced various rewards for the most artistic, innovative or creative images. The drummers also had their competitions and were given prizes for becoming champions or runners-up. Today there is hardly any water for the large boats to ply on and dashahara has lost its lustre, so has the celebration.
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