As a child, my most cherished and enduring Durga Pujo memory is of the face of the Goddess.
Oh, I liked wearing new dresses and rushing to the parar pandal (neighbourhood marquee where the festive celebration was organized). I liked the happy, excited crowds, and the Hindi songs blaring from the microphones, and the smell of dhoop (incense) and flowers, and the dhaak er bajna (drumbeats), and the finery of the ten-handed goddess and her brood of four children, and the sonorous Sanskrit mantras (hyms) and the busy evenings of pandal-hopping.
But most of all, I liked to sit quietly inside the pandal at Jagruti Sangha (our local neighbourhood Pujo) and gaze at the lovely, angry face of the Goddess. Because at Jagruti Sangha, the sculptor (I forget his name) would always create an idol whose eyes shone with divine wrath. Baba (my father) used to say that this was the face of the Goddess just before she killed the demon Mahishasura – that climax of fury which led to the triumph of good over evil.
All the other Durga idols I have seen (in my childhood and even now, so many many years later) depict a calm and serene Goddess. Baba would say that that is the face of Durga after she has destroyed Mahisasura – “calm of mind, all passion spent”.
And although I love to look at the calm and beautiful face of Durga almost as much, during every Pujo I feel a deep yearning for our childhood Jagruti Sangha Durga – that trinayani (three-eyed) face compellingly majestic with its blazing eyes and gaze of furious power. That terrible, mighty beauty absolutely fascinated me, and I would gaze for hours, imprinting that face on my memory-album (we did not have a camera) so that long after Bijoya Dashami and the immersion of the idol, that face would be stamped deep in my soul in all its anger and loveliness.
I just have to close my eyes to see that face of my childhood Maa Durga again. Although the contours have become elusive, the eyes are as burningly beautiful as ever.
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