“When the painter paints the eye, clay springs to life… the Goddess breathes.” Almost two decades back, so ran the copy of the festive season ad by a leading paint company.
“Have you been there, where it all ends even before the beginning?” asked a friend.
“No, but this is mid-monsoon, right ? … And the festival usually takes place in mid-autumn !”
“For you, maybe…”
And indeed yes; for me Durga Pujo always began with the Mahalaya, following a gradual crescendo in the following days before Maha-Sasthi, picking up to allegro from Maha-Saptami, reaching the peak on Maha-Ashtami and then gradually falling to the vacuum of nothingness on Bijaya-Dashami.
So how is it different elsewhere? To seek, here I found myself, in search of the Goddess in the streets of Kumartuli, Kolkata, trying to unfold a meaning within various meanings of the grand Bengali festival
For here, truly, the story begins in mid-monsoon in and around Ratha-Yatra when the boats carrying the clay from the Ganges start anchoring at the ghats of the river, and the rudimentary structures of straw tied with jute ropes are assembled. For the next two months it is a battle against all odds and elements till those clay structures are given a complete makeover of a warrior Goddess. And the climax ? “When the painter paints the eye ….” In some dingy streets, and makeshift workshops of the city, in the hands of many unsung Boticelli’s, our Venus is reborn.
Meanwhile the city brightens, lights are lit, and her earthly abode is hurried to a pristine finish in every locality while the dhaak starts beating. By the time she reaches the pandals, darkness has fallen over the lanes of Kumartuli. For those celestial five days, she is the show-stopper in the city as ‘Durga’, an incarnation of Shakti, the fiercely independent one, not to be tamed either by the demon Asura or the male gods. For every sorrow, for every failure and for every evil she remains the only hope, but at the same time waiting to go back from where she came … the river.
The city darkens, the city waits … for another year.
P.S: Why would she have to die at the hands of some Egyptian assassin, Amish? She is our immortal one!