Goddess Durga is worshiped in Calcutta. Just like Ganpati is said to descend during its Festival in Maharastha, Goddess Durga is said to descend onto Earth during this time. Months of preparation goes into conceptualizing these temporary shelters for the Goddess, known as the pandal. A pandal “hopping” in early hours of morning helped me get these pictures above. These structures are a fascinating treat to the eyes.
A more critical analysis is given on my other blog, Pursuit of Imagination, as the post titled ” Five lessons in Installation Art 101 with Puja Pandal Hopping
It was maddening traffic outside. A yellow cab, some white ubers, motely crowd of audi, honda and few others were stuck on the red light as a procession for immersion slowly weaved its way on the road. A clay figurine of a God, probably Vishwakarma, the celestial architect and craftsman, was being taken for immersion after its puja. The young boys accompanying the idol enjoy a smoke between shouting slogans, the wind blowing the ashes right on top of the face of the deity.
Sometimes one wonders how many puja can there be. In Calcutta, each day becomes a day of puja, with the queen of all puja, the Durga Puja, stopping everything in mid for ten days. And we are only talking about the Hinduism culture. On another days there are the various forms of Id and sometimes innocent people sleeping are woken with sounds of exploding crackers at three in the morning , as another procession for Chhaat makes way, a primarily bihari migrant population festival.
Days without puja seem to be few and far in between. Noisy processions stop life midway. Commerce depends on these festivals. The central avenues get blocked and traffic stands waiting. In other cities while the policemen tell traffic to stop, in Calcutta, the policemen actually go on the street and wave the traffic to move ahead quickly as people and drivers slowly crawl on the road.
Such is the movement and languid pace of a city, once been and lost somewhere in its crowded culture.
This post is late, but in time for the forthcoming total solar eclipse on 21st August. In India, the eclipse may not be viewed, but here are the pictures of the lunar eclipse viewed from Calcutta on 07th August. I tried to time it with gap of around 15 minutes each.
What prompted me to post these now is the fact I just learned. In a Mooc that I’m mentoring, in a video the professor mentions that the moon is much older compared to the Earth. The earth young dynamic and in motion. The moon, though is older.
The house where we have been staying, is next to the banks of a tributary of Ganges. Trees grow on either banks with the ecosystem which something similar to the Sundarbans a bit further off. Pipal. Mango, banana trees guard our compound wall with their strong presence. Birds like the green headed barbet, tree pie, mynah, magpie and many others visit these trees. Bird watching from my kitchen window or the dining room is a favourite hobby for both me and the cat.
A few day back, while the house was asleep, she sprang from the bed and scampered around the room in a mad haste.
A black and white furry creature, somewhat longer and bigger than her, with patches of black around the glowing eyes, was the object of her chase. The creature ran around the room in circles with its unusually long tail upright, and then proceeded to be chased out of the room and maybe out of the door and veranda of its entry. By now the lights were on and we were wondering where it was, what it was and where it had come from.
It had led some traces of an odd smell in some of the rooms. A quick google search introduced us to the “Civet”.
The Indian civet is a creature which looks somewhere between a mongoose and a cat. It may have been led indoors by the smell of food. Apparently Channel No 5 uses some civet essence in their fragrance mix as well.
That was hardly impressive.
To wake up at 2 am and see an unknown wild animal running around your bedroom is not the ideal memory for urban dwellers.
Two thoughts crossed my mind.
The first was that we talk so much about sustainability, but do we really know how to live with other animals? We fear them. We may even not know about some of them.
Second was a bit more on the abstract. The creature was a creature of the night. It had perhaps spotted our dwelling, just like we had been watching the birds. We were till this incident unaware of its existence. But was it unaware of us? Would it again attempt to enter?
We so often take what we see and experience everyday as the beautiful truth, while there maybe something or someone lurking somewhere that we know the existence not of.
Someone watching us. The same feeling you get of someone watching over your shoulder when you are doing something, no matter how mundane it is. The freedom of making your mistakes in private. The security of the predictable future. The security of sleeping comfortably in a room you can call your own without any intruder.
Actually, isn’t it a lot like the right to privacy?
(Cat did not sleep at night for the last few days. This encounter made her feel threatened of her space. She undertakes guard dog duties for the night, leaving the comfort of her pillow.)
It’s raining. The sun is about to set. We needed to reach across the river to the Dakshineshwar Kali temple from Belur Math.
The story of the Math (pronounced “mutth”) started from a dream. Queen Rukmini of Bengal had a vision of goddess Kaali instructing her to build a temple on the banks of the Hooghly river. A priest, Ramakrishna Parmahanas was detailed with the worship. Some years later after his death, a disciple of the priest, Swami Vivekanand established the Belur math on the opposite side of the shore.
When you visit the Math, you get a sense of cleanliness and discipline. It has none of the commercial frills and fancies associated with an Indian religious place.
Later that evening, I skimmed through the book that I purchased from the store during my visit.
It spoke about how there is a field of energy all around us and within us. Between each cell, protons, electrons is the energy force. Basics physics. It lead me to visualise the chart below. Can you make sense?
Today is Rath Yatra. As an Indian, its tough keeping track of all our festivals. There seems to be one every single day.
A very cute deity picture appeared in the local daily as an advertisement and that is what informed us, the outsiders, of the event.
It is surprising how many such events a single city can have. Marketers opportunity indeed! Apart from a handful (a million?) of the population, there is not much involvement of the middle and above middle classes in these events, unless ofcourse there is some political affiliation.
Bengalis seem to like two things, one is things to eat and the other is intellectual pursuits. It is ironical however that a place which gives the world so much talent, itself hasn’t grown with the rest of the world.
Reading an eighth grade textbook with a neighbor’s kid enlightened me to some historic facts. Amid many yawns that history textbooks bring, it was almost like a modern day thriller.
In short here is what happened:
1500s: Europe wanted cinnamon for their bread. and silks. They form trading companies and set asea. They find Bengal, a treasure trove of natural resources, gold and silks.
1600s: they establish east India trading companies, after bowing a part of the profits to their queen.
1700s: last of mughal rulers died. British companies look at the divided princely states and start their policy of quietly annexing states one by one. They promise to protect one ruler of a princely state from another, however, they annex one state after another.
1800s: Industrialization begins and Europeans want coal for their trains and markets for their “manufactured” goods. They kill the self sufficient cottage industry of Bengal and start sending in imported “manufactured” goods to the natives. An age of plundering and corruption begins. They take the 16 year old son of the last ruler, give him passage to the royal family in Britain along with a British military doctor, as his guardian. Shrewdly they get the young king to pass over the family jewels to the crown. The Kohinoor diamond included.
1900s: world wars happen. Britain transfers debt of war to India and exits.
2000s: Neo colonials, unscrupulous traders and political machinery still carries forward the legacy of loot and corruption.( I need to stop here, otherwise they put people in jail)
People tend to turn a blind eye (?) and carry on work as if nothing happened. Education machinery works overtime and kids are brought up to be prepared to be “educated” and mostly they leave the state.
Then some religious event happens and all unite to celebrate the forgotten prosperity and good times. Of some 400 years before.
The Rath yatra today, celebrates an event of 625 years before.
“Invoke the Goddess in you!” shouted a billboard lit by the strong halogen , next to the crowded flyover. Of all the places that I’ve stayed in , Calcutta has the most powerful design message in its traditional jewellery. Women all over India do love to play dress up and ironically its the age group above 30 that is more experimental and loud.
Come Poila Baisakh ( Bengali new year) and you would see “Goddesses” everywhere. Kolkata gets its name from the famous “Kali” temple at Kalighat, the fierce looking form of Durga, the feminine personification of “Shakti”.
The color blood red therefore is found almost everywhere. Whether the powdery sindoor, the reddened lips, that pallu of a shaada palla shari, the hibiscus offerings or simply the round red bindi on the forehead to signify the third eye.
Contrast it with pure white of jasmine flowers, coconut & pure crisp cotton.
Kohl eyes complete the look, eyes outlined aka the goddess removing any leftover vestige of mortality and transcending into the next dimension.
Welcome to Kali Ma land.
A North Indian Spectator.
When the Spring Equinox ends, the day is celebrated in many places in India by various names. In Bengal its called “Pohela Boishakh”. A north Indian might call it “pahela Baisakh” with a lot of tongue curling.
The little pavement shops were dressed for the occasion. A lot of Red, glitter, pottery painted with designs and a Haal Khaata, or an accounts book ready for the morning ritual.
I sometimes wonder the need of an accounts book. Majority of the Bengali Hindus are not really known for their business acumen. That is left to the Marwari community and this prosperity is evident by their really large houses in the poshest localities of the city. Even then, they would get down from their Audi, or the least a mercedes, as the entire family, and extended family, would plan a sunday trip to the Jhalmuri wala. The matronly mother would then order a dozen or so jhalmuris (a kind of a mixed salad with puffed rice), keenly noting the amount of sufficient almonds to go into it. The eldest male member would then make the payment after sufficient negotiation with the roadside vendor.
The rest of the Bengali community has two major occupations, one is slaving for the above community and the second is the intellectual class; who’s children leave Calcutta for better prospects as fast as they grow up. And they do extremely well, …. but outside Calcutta.
Then the mind wanders to intellectual Bengalis and the name “Amartya Sen” comes to the mind. I haven’t googled him yet, but I believe he is known for his studies relating to poverty which got him a noble prize.
The gaze then shifts back to the roadside dweller, a sickly thin lady, wearing nothing but a blouseless sari and eating the scraping from a used curd bowl.
Wonder if she has heard about him too. I suspect not.
I forgot the password. It actually took a year to recover. Do I have a simple explanation to it? If I were to give an excuse, there would be many. Ever since we have this trend of alpha numeric codes with multiple special characters interspersed, password creation has become a chore. Increasingly most of our dealings are going online. Password creation increasing directly proportional. Need to remember and age both take their toll as the mind stresses itself to juggle with many new characters, meant to be different each time.
Over the last one year from the previous post, I’ve changed residence four times. A physical “home” to be took precedence over a web “homepage”. Real locks and keys took precedence over the digital ones.
The experiences, though were gained. Traveling through Calcutta. Discovering new places, to eat. Thanks to mobile apps , travel and food is both available at click of a button but the joy of discovering the hidden markets beneath temporary plastic sheets, on either sides of the road is unexplainable. I feel a certain sense of joy at discovering a 100 year old sweet shop, sampling roadside food, picking a kalamkari skirt at a bargain deal from these streets. Then, the frustration while communicating with a sleepy shopkeeper at 2:00 in the afternoon as Calcutta shuts shop for their siesta.
Watching the palash tree bloom, then the copper tones and then the gulmohars. I must say that I have a nice view. Sometimes, its good to be locked out. Now I’m back.
It was 5.30 am. The sky had just started clearing up the slumber of the night. A Coppersmith Barbet held a twig of grass in the beak and prepared for the dawn ahead.
Next, a grey headed Mynah announced that it was 7.00 am and that the sun was unbearably hot.
A Black headed Oriole “hid” behind a tree, but her colours and call gave her away.