Bijoya Dashami is the tenth day of the auspicious fortnight, the day when the ten-armed Goddess bids goodbye to her earthly paternal home and returns to her husband in the Himalayas.
After spending four mornings and evenings giddy with Pujo-excitement, Bijoya Dashami made us very, very sad. In the mornings we would pretend as if this was just another Puja day, donning yet another new dress and rushing to the parar pandal (festival tent in the neighbourhood). I would spend hours just gazing at the face of the Durga idol in our pandal (Jagruti Sangha), at her divinely angry face as she pierced the demon Mahishasura with the trishul (trident).
Most Durga idols had a calm face full of grace and mercy; our pujo had an angry Durga. My father explained that our neighbourhood Durga was depicted at the moment of killing the demon, full of righteous rage and power, whereas the other Durgas were frozen in time after the demon was slayed, whereupon the goddess calmed down and blessed the rest of the world.
But when we returned to the pandal in the afternoon, the sad fact of Durga’s imminent departure could no longer be avoided. The idols, of Durga and her children, had already been taken down from the dais and were standing on the open ground. They looked so forlorn and powerless, especially because we could go behind them and see the backs of the idols. Whereas the fronts were bedecked in silk costumes and shiny tinsel jewellery, at the back the clay and straw under-structure could be clearly seen.
Then Maa, Barama and all the other married women would arrive with trays full of dhaan (rice-with-the-husk), dubbo (grass tridents), paan-supari (betel-leaf and betelnut), sindur (vermilion – the must-wear-on-the-hair-parting symbol of married women) and mishti (sweets). They would climb on ladders to put sindur on the gods’ and goddesses’ foreheads and feet, and would put some paan and sweet in their mouth - bidding farewell and asking for blessings at the same time. Then there would be the sindurkhela ritual, where the married ladies would put sindur on each other’s foreheads and faces. We would also take some of our books (I always took my Mathematics book – it was the demon I wanted to slay in every examination) and touch the idols’ feet with these, hoping for divine help in studies.
There would be a red haze of sindur blowing about as the idols were lifted and put into two big trucks. Huge yellow lights would fight the gathering darkness, as the crowds thronged for a last look at Maa Durga. Many would follow the trucks in a brightly-lit and noisy procession (my father among them) to the Ganga-ghaat (riverside), where the idols would be immersed in the water to the shouts of Durga Maa Ki Joy (Victory to Mother Durga) and Aschhe Bochhor Aabaar Habey (Come Back Next Year).
But we (my mother-brother-aunt-cousins) would always go to Dahlia Aunty’s house to gorge on Dashami delicacies, after a token pranam (touching of all elders’ feet). She would invariably make mutton-ghugni (mutton with chickpeas) and jam-cake (unusual anglicized choice). Then, we would troop over to my Barapishi’s house (my father’s elder sister) to gorge on more traditional Bijoya Dashami fare like narkol-naaru (coconut-jaggery balls) and nimki (savoury made of flour). We would stand on their roof-terrace and watch all the pujo processions on the way to the Ganga (river) – their house was advantageously located along the procession-route – munching on naaru and nimki, thinking ahead of all the other houses (including our own) we would visit in the coming week and all the lovely food waiting for us in return for the customary pranam.
A heavy stomach was the best cure for a heavy heart.
DO SHARE YOUR MEMORIES ON FESTIVAL-ENDINGS AND FESTIVAL-FEASTING.