of uppity aunties and upturned noses

I have yet to tell you the dirty details about why the Baran Ceremony was such an eye opener for me.

So there I was, in a long line, waiting for my turn and watching other women do things I had never done before. I saw Durga’s beautiful face be smeared with vermilion with a vengeance, sweets stuffed into her closed, and to me, disgusted mouth, and flowers strewn all over the place being trampled by women holding more flowers in their hands.

The two ladies behind me were from the lower middle class, and stuck out like a sore thumb. I overheard one of them talking about their ailing child, whom she had left at home. When my turn came, I asked them to go first because I had no sick children waiting. She looked very thankful and climbed up up the chair in front of the idol and started doing the thing. She must’ve been up there for less than two minutes when I realized that two uppity aunties in uncannily similar blue and green sarees (almost the same design in two different colors) had just climbed up on the stage and were slyly trying to jump their turn. I politely told them (in Hindi) that there was a line, and pointed to where it ended.

The woman in the blue saree was visibly miffed, but kept quiet. For one second. She suddenly started urging (rather rudely) the lady on the chair to hurry up, because tum kitni der se oopar chadhi hui ho, hamari baari kab aayegi (you’ve been up there for such a long time, when will we get a chance)?

I smirked, which she (mis)understood, as she started asking me and the other women why we were not saying something to the woman who was taking too long. The other lower middle class woman came to her friend’s rescue – she just got up there, less than two minutes ago.

The woman in the green saree then started pushing the woman and asking her to get off the chair. Kahan kahan se aa jate hain! Where do these people even come from?

Then I lost it. I asked her (pretty rudely) to back off and go stand in the line. Sab yahan line mein ek ghante se khade hain, agar paanch minute puja karne mein lage bhi to kya problem hai? Jab aapki baari aaye to aap bhi time laga lena. Ab jakar line mein khade ho jaiye. Everyone’s been standing in the line for an hour – what does it matter if they take five minutes to pray? Please go and stand in the line and await your turn, and when you do get a chance, take as long as you like.

Hum yahan dus baje se yahan hain, barah bajne wale hain aur hamari baari ab tak nahin aayi. We’ve been here since 10 am. It’s nearly noon, and we still haven’t got a chance.

Agar aap line mein khade hote to aa jati naa baari! Par aap to subah se mandir mein socialize kar rahe ho, kaise aayegi baari! You would’ve, if you had stood in the line instead of socializing with the other ladies in the temple.

Aur itne saare logon ne time liya, aapne unse to kuch nahin kaha! Aisa kyon? Kyonki woh sab zyada classy ladies thi? Also, many women took this long, but you said nothing to them! Could it be because they were all classy ladies?

At this point they were really mad at me because it really was the truth, but they could say nothing because I wasn’t from the lower middle class. They just kept their noses upturned and said mean things about me in Bengali, all of which I understood.

So I decided to take things a notch higher. By the way, ami bangla bujhte pari. By the way, I understand Bengali.

You should’ve seen the looks on their faces as onlookers began to laugh.

Here’s a picture of me doing the baran. I was laughing all the time, and took a good five minutes to finish just to piss them off!

Photo(10)

of the big durga deluge

Ever since I married him, Mister had been yapping non-stop about how much he was looking forward to Durga Puja this year. He told me all about the pushpanjali (offering of flowers to the goddess – pushp = flowers, anjali = offering), the bhog (the meal offered to the goddess that is later distributed to the masses), the pandals (the temporary structure that houses clay statues of the goddess Durga and her four children), the dhunachi dance, the baran ceremony, and the sumptuous food at anandomela!

He had never, in all his thirty-six years and three marriages, had a proper Durga Puja experience and was determined to make this one count. I was equally eager, because it was going to be my first real festival after the wedding, so we took the entire week off so we could go pandal-hopping without having to worry about work and other commitments.

When the Shashthi (day six of the nine auspicious nights called Navratri) finally arrived, I was ecstatic. Four days of gorging on Mishti (sweets) and Bengali cuisine, wearing brightly colored sarees, and wearing vermilion in the parting of my hair, wearing my shankha pola (pictures here).

Aside: I don’t usually wear vermilion and shankha pola (or a mangalsutra) it because I don’t like the lopsided concept of married women should look married. But I do think that vermilion looks beautiful on Indian skin, and I love bangles anyway.

I knew I was going to have a lot of fun, and I was right! Everywhere I went I saw Durga idols, each more beautiful than the other. The intricate detailing told takes of months of toil and sweat and truckloads of money spent. The Minto Road Pandal, which I thought was the most beautiful, had been under construction for over three months before it opened up for the public! I thought that the actual temple paled in comparison with the grandeur of the fake, temporary structure that had been erected.

The Minto Road Protima
The Minto Road Protima (Idol)

 

The Protima at Shiv Mandir, CR Park
The Protima at Shiv Mandir, CR Park

 

And that’s where I felt disconnected with the whole ‘devotion’ charade. To be honest, if it were up to me, I’d invest it in the temple where the more permanent idol resides.

Why?

Because it’s all a waste. Think about it – people do so much in the name of devotion to the goddess, and in the end, they’re all sitting with their back toward her, enjoying the cultural song-and-dance routines presented on the stage opposite to the stage where the goddess is, chomping on fish tikka and mutton chop as she and her four children stand alone.

Aside: I don’t believe in idol worship. Also, I don’t think eating non-veg is not religious or anything – I just don’t think that the goddess gets the attention that she should deserve.

And the Anandamela was another type of experience. On the one hand there were kathi rolls, kebabs, fisk tikkas, mutton ghugni for the non vegetarian population. And for vegetarians like me, they had only item. WTF!? Can people not imagine someone wanting to eat anything other than fish/chicken/mutton?  The cultural programmes were fun, though!

The Pushpanjali was such a sham in most places. Pundits were taking phone calls while reciting shlokas (devotional verses in Sanskrit) and mouthing oddities like jabar phool mala la behenchod. In one of the pandals, the pundit started the pushpanjali without actually distributing flowers.

The baran ceremony (farewell for the goddess Durga) was probably the worst experience and the best possible eye opener – people are just so crass and class-conscious everywhere! But more on that later. For now, I’ll just quickly tell you that baran works like this. Married women get up close to the giant Durga idol and stand on a chair (because the idol is huge), offer her flowers, sweets, paan leaves, and vermilion, and pray to her just before she is taken down to be immersed in the river. (Don’t even get me started on the water pollution this causes!)

So all-in-all, I did enjoy the experience, but I’m awestruck at the sheer wastefulness and pointlessness of it all. Of course my views would be entirely different if we were to stop saying Durga Puja is basically just a social gathering, an art exhibition of sorts. Then I’d be totally cool with the revelry and the grandeur.

Btw, did you know that Durga Puja is not even a festival in the traditional sense?

As per Wikipedia:

The actual worship of the Goddess Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with March or April and is called Basanti Durga Puja.

And though this belief has recently been debated,

…the first such Puja was organised by Raja Nabakrishna Deb of the Shobhabazar Rajbari of Calcutta in honour of Lord Clive in the year 1757.  Indeed many wealthy mercantile and Zamindar families in Bengal made British officers of the East India Company guests of honour in the Pujas. The hosts vied with one another in arranging the most sumptuous fares, decorations and entertainment for their guests.

Seriously, WTF?

But will I participate in the puja next year?

Hell yes.


What do you  think about Durga Puja (or any other large-scale religious processions, such as the kawariyas)? What about wedding processions? And if you’re not Indian, do you have any such festivals/large-scale processions in your country? As a tourist, would you want to visit India during Durga Puja, or would the crowd and traffic scare you away?