Monday, October 29, 2012

Ritual nostalgia

the emblemic deity - the ghot 
by Subhrangshu Chatterjee

This time of the year is drenched in nostalgia. Always.

Back in Kolkata, festivities celebrating several mother goddesses in the hindu mythology populate this time of the year. The grand opening with the Debipokkho ( Bengali word; debi = mother goddess, pokkho = lunar fortnight)  brings to the hindu households festivals of the goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, Kali and Jagadhatri.

The development of different perspectives on religion since a young age was incidentally born out of the first knowledge of the solar system. Till before that, religion was only associated with the practices observed in the household. The science textbook that introduced the solar system opened up a pandora's box of questions and ideas.

How are all the planets so neatly arranged? Who makes them go in their orbits? Do the planets have mothers who scold them? Is the sun the mother and the planets in the solar system the children?

All aspects of the world that is so huge that it seemed impossible to comprehend was guided by the inquisitive look-out for a governing force, which seemed interchangeable to the concept of the mother and what the elders called the god. Religion since then is heavily matriarchalised in the blogger's mind.

Beliefs shifted to rituals and then again shifted to beliefs and selected rituals during the span of the last two decades. It is intriguing that ritual is also a technical term used in the field of psychology to denote a systematic repetition of particular behaviours to neutralise anxiety. It is indeed true that a religious ritual involving a systematised series of actions - cleaning of the worship area, lighting the candle/ a light, offering token food and water to the deity, ringing the ghonta (a kind of a bell), and doing the arati (worshipping the deity with light, water, essence, cloth and fan) does actually calm the blogger's agitated nerves during this part of the year.

aarti in progress - durga pujo 2008 at home
On the tenth day of the first lunar fortnight that begins with Debipokkho, the festivities surrounding the goddess Durga and her associated family ends. To mark the ending of the festivities, married women share sindur (red powder signifying marriage) with the goddess and with each other. Sweets are also shared. This act of the women of a household marks the continuous cycle of life. While the act of bhasan (immersion) of the deities mark the end of a process of festivities, the act of sharing the sindur seems to be the act of sharing support, love and care in the community. The grand celebrations end but the hope that the joy will remain in the mundane life is passed on.

This year around, the systematised ritual during the days of the Durga worship didn't work well enough to prevent the blogger from being depressingly nostalgic about a ritual in which only married women participate - the sindur khela ( khela = play) on Durga Dashami (tenth day of the first cycle of Debipokkho). As the social networking sites filled with images of women smeared in sindur exuding a calm celebratory joy, the blogger missed participating in this ritual.

Since then the blogger has been wondering why such nostalgia for only one ritualistic act?
She has possibly unearthed her personal reasons.

part of the ritual of sindur khela 

To be continued

All images were shot in Kolkata, India in 2008 by Subhrangshu Chatterjee and Susmita Paul.