Durga Puja

Om Ayim Hreem Shreem…

Eyes closed, palms together, I give in to the murmurings of the meditative mantra.  Wisps of sandalwood incense invade my nostrils, transporting me to the innumerable other times that I have sat like this, blanketed in the bhajans and bell tolls of a temple celebration.  Aromas of soap, talcum powder, hair oil, and human bodies band together with the usual temple smells, seeping into every pore until they become a part of my own odour.

Ayim Ka Ee Ila Hreem

Women clad in saris of every hue bustle around me, peacocks battling rainbows.  The colours mix and mingle in a paisley haze.  Men sit to the side, their dhotis gleaming white against the black marble floor, hair oiled and combed.  There’s less jostling amongst them, their devotion is ordered.

Hreem Ha Sa Ka Ha La Hreem

Every grain of my being trembles with the ceaseless mumble of the faithful.  My soul reverberates with the released wisps of hope winging their way heavenward on clouds of incense smoke.  Obsecrations for passing grades tussle with wishes for newborns, while suitable suitors wrestle painless passings for the ears of the gods.  A priest lifts me from my place, and carries me forward to the altar.  Today the puja is for me.  Gently, he places me on the raised stone pillar and steps away.  I look out at the swarming swaying sea of devotees and smile beatifically, wondering briefly if they even notice my expressions.

Sauh Sa Ka La Hreem

The libations begin and I feel honey oozing onto the crown of my head.  As it drips across my hairless pate, around my ears and down my neck, a shiver shimmies its way up my spine.  I feel the prickle of rough hands as they massage the sticky substance into my arms and across my back.  Then the shrill coldness of the milk cascades on top of me, sluicing off the last of the gooey mess.  The same priest who carried me so gently, comes now to wipe me clean and dress me.  He wraps the thick red silk sari, shimmering with its intricate gold embroidery, around me like a lover.  His touch is light, fingertips barely grazing me, tucking and pleating with attentive tenderness.  As he finishes, he touches my feet, then raises his hands to his eyes, guiding the blessings from me to him.

Om

This is the signal the congregation has been awaiting.  They shift and shuffle, rising to their feet and inching forward.  Each one touches first my feet and then their own eyes.  Blessings, like horoscopes, are required to be generic enough to be picked up by anyone, while simultaneously individually tailored.

A small boy, recently turned three, steps boldly forward to receive his blessings.  His mother lifts him and he reaches out his chubby hands.  I feel the touch of his flesh on my foot, then his hands recoil, and a frightened yelp escapes his lips.

Ma! Durga-Devi is made of wood!

©Asha Rajan

Image credit: http://spumby.com/durga-puja-hd-wallpapers-greetings.html

Addendum notes: The goddess Durga is celebrated over the nine nights of Navaratri, in her nine forms.  This is a prayer to her, in its uninterrupted form below.

Om Ayim Hreem Shreem

Aim Ka Ee Ila Hreem

Hreem Ha Sa Ka Ha La Hreem

Sau Sa Ka La Hreem

Om

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16 thoughts on “Durga Puja

  1. I love the poetry of your descriptions. There’s a mesmerizing, dreamlike quality to the whole piece – which is absolutely and perfectly appropriate. Gorgeous.

    • Hah! Thanks Stacie, that’s very generous of you. Having spent some time last week looking over work I’d written a while ago, I can assure you that I’m perfectly competent at producing rubbish too.

  2. Another story to add to the many reasons why I look forward each week to reading what you’ve posted. “Peacocks battling rainbows.” How I wish I’d thought of something so incredibly beautiful! Love that you left it to the end to reveal, through a little boy’s wonder, that the narrator is a wooden figure. It seems so appropriate because, I believe, this would be something the adults would take for granted. As others have said, I really love learning about your culture through your eyes.

    • You’re quite right about children noticing those details that we miss as adults. I like being reminded to look for the little things — there’s such beauty there.

      SL, your comments always make me blush. You, the charmer of words, complimenting me on my word choices… squee! Thank you.

  3. Like the child, I did not know until the end that the narrator was a wooden icon. That’s so effing brilliant — both metaphorically and literally. Your writing is, as ever, lyrical and full of magic.

  4. The simile between individual blessings and horoscopes was both enlightening and well told. You have a gift for explaining culture (for those of us not in the know) without making it feel like a social studies lesson.

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