II. DURGA PUJA: 1992
today / man will triumph over gods
— TABISH KHAIR, ‘My India Diary IV’
Through the swirling fumes of the scented incense, the arati echoes
as the priest hums, and the Chandipaath chants in a scriptural rhyme.
From the bamboo pedestal she stares through her painted pupils,
the three-eyed pratima of the Goddess Durga —
resplendent, statuesque, armed with ten hands, on her roaring chariot,
her glazed clay demeanour, poised, even after the mythic bloody war.
Every year after the monsoons diminish, she comes, high from
her Himalayan palace — sculpted in fresh snow and open sky —
to the earth where she once belonged, her home with
her parents and people, reminiscing the quadrangle of her playful days.
Today, and for the next four days, we worship and rejoice
at her presence and her victory over Ashoor — the demon —
half-emerging from the deceptive black buffalo, as she spears
his green body crimson in a cathartic end to the Crusades.
These five days are hers, exclusively hers, even her children —
Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesh, and Kartik — fade in her presence.
For five days we sing and dance, laugh and cheer,
untutored, unlike the rest of the year.
The dashami comes even before we realise the barone is over.
After the mid-afternoon rites, the procession begins —
Durga’s face totally effaced, red and white with sindoor and sandesh,
or perhaps it is the residual stains of the fervent worship —
her body weary, her coat of arms mutilated, often dismembered,
as she sits on open lorries, while the young men and women
dance the continuous drum beats, possessed — and Durga, now one of
the multitude, a rare frozen moment when the gods look human.
Though it may seem today that men will triumph over the goddess,
that her immersion at the ghats with mortal hands is real,
it is, like some myths, only an illusion of victory and sadness,
as she mingles, melting with the great silting Ganga,
her soft clay body browning the greenish-blue bhashaan waters,
as we hear the receding din of the last offerings,
see the muted wick’s faint glimmer on the floating earthen lamps,
and the moonlight’s occasional flicker on the damp strewn petals,
as she wades her way upstream — miraculously through the
debris, dirt, sewage and homage of many unknown towns and villages —
back, to the pristine snow-crowned peaks, where Shiva
welcomes her home in an unusual dance of life;
while we, on earth, await her return the following year,
perhaps to celebrate, perhaps to pray, perhaps to forget
the life around, but perhaps to believe that really
the life force still lives, that the celestial cycles still exist
just as Durga visits, once every year,
just as, at the close of every season, she whispers from the heavens —
“Akhone aami aashi” — that I’ll return once again — Shashti, Shaptami,
Ashtami, Navami, Dashami … Shashti, Shaptami, Ashtami, Navami, Dashami.