This piece came about because my friend Alpona asked if I would write something about Durga Puja for the Hampstead Puja brochure. Of course, I replied, with no idea whatsoever about what I’d write. The deadline neared. Still no clue. The next morning dawned. I did my drill of huffing and puffing and blowing the house down so as to gently remind the daughters to make it in time to school instead of exploring other random pursuits (slime making/Googling the secret life of the slender loris), while I juggled with eyeballing a piece of copywriting that needed to go out, ordering masalas online, coordinating dance practice schedules, reserving my research books at the library and hunting for the permission slip for an impending school trip. Big sigh. ‘All you need is some more hands. Like Ma Durga,’ remarked my younger daughter, as she added more Borax to her slime concoction, instead of putting her jumper on and leaving for school. And there it was. I pictured Ma Durga dealing with getting four kids ready to make it to Earth in time to visit her devotees. That would do. I’d found my way in to the story A big thank you to Sohini and Piya for sharing this on the Penguin blog – and to the lovely digital team at Penguin for this wonderful illustration.
You can read the story at https://penguinindiablog.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/just-before-we-set-off-for-earth-earthward-bound/Earthward Bound‘ - or here below :)
'Come on kids, get ready – we’re off on a little journey,’ said Goddess Durga.
Her four children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Ganesha were busy having a snowball fight in the mountains of Kailash.
‘Where are we headed, Ma?’ asked Ganesha.
‘To Earth of course, silly!’ said Saraswati.
‘Have you forgotten – we go every year when Ma is invited by her devotees?’ said Lakshmi.
‘I knew that – obvio!’ mumbled Ganesha.
‘Yup, he would never forget the sweets at Puja,’ piped in Kartikeya.
‘Could you four please stop squabbling – we need to get there in time!’ said Ma Durga. ‘Oh, quick check – have I taken everything?’
‘Hmm, let’s see Ma,’ said Saraswati. ‘Have you got Vishnu’s discus, Shiva’s trident, Varuna’s conch and noose, Agni’s flaming dart, Vayu’s bow, Surya’s quiver full of arrows, Yama’s sword and shield, Vishwakarma’s axe and armour and Indra’s thunderbolt?’
‘Whoa! That’s quite a handful – good thing you have so many hands, Ma!’ said Ganesha. ‘How come you get to keep all the weapons that the Gods gave you to fight Mahishasur – even though he is now long dead?’
‘Well, Mahishasur may be dead but evil lives on, Ganesha – and I always need to be ready to fight evil,’ replied Ma Durga.
‘Will we be riding on the lion given to you by Himavat?’ asked Lakshmi.
‘Of course!’ said Ma Durga. ‘Now as you know the Devi Paksha rituals start from Mahalaya, when we begin our journey to Earth. Who remembers what Mahalaya means?’
‘Ahem, I do!’ said Kartikeya, casting a sideways glance at Ganesha. ‘“Maha” means ‘big’, and “laya”, means ‘destruction’. It refers to the colossal war between the Devtas, Rishis and Asuras - where many Devtas and Rishis died at the hands of the Asuras. People on Earth consider Devtas and Rishis to be their forefathers. That’s why the ritual of Tarpan or Shraddh happens on Mahalaya, when prayers are offered in remembrance.’
‘Bah! Such a show-off!’ muttered Ganesha, whose mind was now feasting on the soon-to-be-had sandesh and laddoos.
‘Though the actual Puja starts from the sixth day, the Shashthi, when we five arrive on Earth,’ added Saraswati.
‘That’s right,’ said Ma Durga. ‘It begins with Bodhan, which marks the moment when I was given all the divine arms to rid the Earth of Mahishasur’s tyranny. On Shashti, my face is uncovered – to show that I have arrived on Earth. The next day is Saptami and it starts with a ritual called “Kola Bou”.’
'Ha ha! Kola Bou’s your wife, Ganesha!’ teased Lakshmi. ‘Such a pretty banana tree stalk, bathed and draped in a white sari with a red border and placed by your side!’
‘Tsk, don’t make him blush, Lakshmi!’ chided Ma Durga. ‘Actually it is not just a banana stalk that is bathed; nine plants are placed by my Ganesha after the bathing rituals. It’s called “Nabapatrika” puja – and these nine plants represent the nine forms of Shakti, of which you are one too, my Lakshmi.’
‘I feel a bit sidelined, to be honest,’ said Saraswati.
‘Come on! You get a day all to yourself to be worshipped,’ said Kartikeya.
‘Well, you get a day like that too, Kartikeya’ said Ma Durga. ‘Anyway, let’s not get sidetracked, kids! So then follows Ashtami which is considered the most auspicious day of Durga Puja – with its most significant ritual being the Sandhi Puja.’
‘Let me elaborate,’ said Kartikeya with a flourish. ‘Sandhikshan, when Sandhi Puja is done, falls between the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami. This is the exact time when the Asuras Chanda and Munda were slain by Ma.’
‘It for this reason I am also called Chamunda,’ said Ma Durga.
‘Aarrgh! Why doesn’t our family keep just one name for each of us?’ asked Ganesha. ‘I have such a hard time keeping track of all my names. It’s so tricky figuring out when I’m being called!’
Ma Durga smiled and carried on. ‘Then comes Dashami or Vijaya Dashami which is the day I killed Mahishasura - and freed the Earth of his torments. Vijaya Dashami is the last day of the puja.’
‘And it’s also when Ma’s idol is taken to a water body and immersed, denoting her journey back to Kailash,’ said Saraswati.
‘That’s right! Well done, all of you!’ said Ma Durga. ‘Now hold on tight – we’re about to take off!’
‘Have a safe journey, family,’ boomed a deep voice in the background. He watched Ma Durga and the children fly earthwards. Lord Shiva closed his eyes. ‘Ah! Now for some peace and quiet, finally.’
Hey kids! Would you like to look up what each of the weapons of Goddess Durga signifies? Hindu mythology is such a treasure trove – there’s always more than what meets the eye. Look for these treasures – you won’t be disappointed!
Note: Ganesha was of course just pretending to not know all the answers in this story, to rile his Mum and siblings. He in fact is quite the know-it-all. Though he can get distracted when sweets are involved. :)