Sunday, September 20, 2009

Durga Puja

It's festival time again across the subcontinent. The festivals on now are Eid, a day of celebration at the end of Ramadan. It is also the beginning of Navaratri a nine-day (often extended to ten) or literally nine-night festival (from the Sanskrit) in celebration of goddesses. The first three days are for Durga (also known as Kali), the second three days for Lakshmi, and the final three days for Sarasvati. The Kali temple on my way to T. Nagar this morning was filled with people offering flowers and other devotions.

The following poem was written after a month-long trip to Bangladesh in 2005. This is a revised version of the original poem. I took the above photo about a month ago at a local temple in Kotturpuram, Chennai.

Durga Puja

It’s a human struggle–this rising of the soul but in the rising a host of players.
On these few days rivers meet–Ramadan, Durga Puja and my own post-christian
pagan soul. Kali is no slouch and Durga’s lion will eat our lamb for Sunday lunch.
She could be your own black Madonna from Switzerland swathed in that blue gown.
Imagine her interceding on behalf of Elephant Man, the braceleted Ganesh!

It’s a Disco Durga, a multimedia event–Myer Window meets Durga Puja.
The stage is set, a proscenium arch of pantomime figures. The mannequin,
blue Krishna, gives an oration before heading to his early morning chores,
raising the sun, milking the cows, rounding up life. The stage is a waterfall
of milk. Is this a story of milk and honey? Romance between Krishna and Parvati?

No it’s a story of blood, of betrayal and murder, of protection rackets. Enter
stage left, Buffalo Demon (BD) a Zapata moustache scarring his upper lip.
A winged cobra slung across his shoulders. Enter stage right livid Kali
doing a haka. Kali lops BD’s head. Help! Help! he cries, I’ve been killed!
BD retaliates slashing at heads as if they are weeds. Battle frenzy escalates.

A giant maw opens stage rear spitting bloodied torsos. Kali, fed up, ends it all.
She cleaves BD in half. It’s a Mediaeval Mumma play with paisley peacock
reminding me of colonial days, gin-and-tonic evenings. We wend our way back
pass shrines of devotion, smoking incense, fruit-filled platters, the holy man,
praying women, the sacrificed goat, the whiff of its spilled blood still in the air.

How high did our souls rise tonight?

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