Durga, the invincible, the embodiment of power and prowess, the very mention of whose name generates fear in the eyes of the demon, the symbol of an enlightened woman who has form and is yet formless, is the most revered Goddess in Hinduism. She creates, preserves and annihilates. She is the enchantress, the symbol of the combined all-encompassing strength of heaven and earth. She is the storm that lashes against evil, nipping it in the bud. Durga, the protector of her children, Durga, the destroyer of evil on earth!
But Durga is not just a vision of the tall, towering clay idol that we worship with deepest regards, she is the mother we despise and disrespect every day, the illiterate sister in an almost semi-urban household, whose brother boasts of his educational qualifications, the well-educated wife whose chauvinist husband is averse to the idea of her going out to work in case she outshines him. She is the sorrow in the form of a baby girl whose parents had prayed for a son. She is the stranger on the streets, in the bus or the train, whose vulnerability we so readily take for granted and commit all sorts of atrocities on her and almost rip her pounding heart apart! She is the daughter whose parents are sceptical of sending her out to study or work for fear of prowling ogres waiting just outside to pounce on her.
She is a small town girl whose battle for survival forces her to manage an entire shop selling articles of daily use, the sole bread winner of her poor family, and we, the society are critical of a young girl sitting at a shop, we who have nothing to provide except criticism and disapproval, we who would refuse to inspire her to dream and yet drag her as a topic into our fruitless gossip and share a smirk among ourselves.
She is the young bride who is incinerated by her greedy in-laws for her inability to furnish the colossal dowry amount demanded by them.
She is the young widow who is forced to accept white as the only colour of her life because her husband is dead. We choose what she should eat to stay alive and deprive her of all the comforts that we think only we deserve.
Why change the established norms of social behaviour even at the cost of a woman’s right to happiness? Why tolerate a woman’s ‘audacity’ to break the barriers of superstitions and rules that make her life miserable? Why let her rise above the petty human beliefs into a higher realm of power, wisdom and greatness?
Why worship Durga? Why place flowers of numerous colours and fragrances at her feet, why offer her the chosen fruits and vegetables, sing in her glory, bow down before her in an act of reverence, chant unintelligible incantations before a fire in praise of her heroism? Unintelligible they are, since most of them are beyond our levels of comprehension, and because they are only meant for those four days of devoted worship, post which the books are pushed aside, the reverence forgotten and we are back to the dirt, to the real monsters we are, to a reality where Durga is only an immersed idol whose glory dissolves with the dissolving clay model in the blackened waters of human pomp and show.
And still every year our hearts are filled with joy at the prospect of Durga’s arrival. Who are we? Hypocrites who put up a fake show of our devotion before the Goddess and stab her from behind? Devils in sheep’s clothing making a mockery of our own set of rituals and ceremonial offerings?
A restless society devoid of the fundamentals of humanity does not deserve to celebrate and spend lavishly for empty reasons. How do we call ourselves a civilized nation when we cannot ensure the safety and freedom of the women of our land?
I would rather think of us as embodiments of the legendary ‘Mahishasura’ underneath the lotus feet of the Goddess begging for mercy, for one last chance to reform ourselves.
Durga puja should be celebrated only when we learn to give a woman her rightful place in our society. Only when we learn to sympathize with the mother, the sister, the baby girl, the daughter, the stranger, the bride and the widow, should we get the right to celebrate Durga puja.
We are to reform, to re-establish, to restructure and to reawaken the society which is slumbering presently, and give our women the happiness they deserve and only then can we worship Durga in all her magnificence.
Where the clear stream of glory has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.