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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Essence of Kali Puja

When we think of the pujas, the first thoughts are about the exotic pandals, the larger than life idols, the noise and the fine clothes people drape themselves in for the evening. But is this really what the pujas are about? Would anyone spend so much money to erect these exotic residences only to house a set of clay idols on a brightly lit stage? Clay is definitely not an ancient mechanism to pave the way to the spiritual world of the Goddess. So what exactly are we missing that is the main element of this worship?

Observing the decoration, my eyes traveled from the sculptural marvel to the potency at the feet of the clay idols. There "it" stood, a tantrik representation of the Goddess, what looked curious to my ignorant self but started making a lot of sense as the evening progressed. The structure was simple, covered with a cloth and decorated with vilva leaves and hibiscus flower garlands. At its feet were scattered a lot of marigold in offering. On one side was a loaded chilum and on the other side was a curious arrangement of small pots and darbha grass tied into the shape of a triangle with a rectangular piece resting over it. The central tantrik shrine had a shoot rising out of it that held bangles. All this was curiously enclosed within a fence of 4 sticks in the 4 corners tied together with a red thread. Next to this was lit an oil lamp glowing quietly in this flood lit stage.

And then the priest walked in, an old man dressed in red, symbolizing the colors of the divine Mother. This was the opportune moment to rush up to him and ask him all that I could possibly know. And slowly I began to discover the mysterious tantrik representation.

What lay hidden beneath the cloth was the traditional kalash, a pot containing sacred water with possibly a dash of rose water to add fragrance to it. Above it was placed a coconut, not in the traditional kalash representation with its outer fiber removed, but horizontally with its green outer cover intact with the stalk rising out of it. This held the bangles of different kinds, red glass bangles followed by that of shankha [shell] and iron [loha]. There was a pot of water on one side and above it was darbha tied with red thread forming a triangle, possible a yantra representation of the Goddess. Above it was a rectangular wooden piece with a mirror embedded with Swastika painted on it. Above that was placed a perforated pot. While the puja would have had many more ingredients in place like Panchagobbo [5 extracts of the cow], Panchasashya[5 food grains], Panchapallab [5 varieties of leaves] etc. my interest floated towards the meaning of this arrangement which, to the common man outside of Bengal, would have looked curiously new.

The theory behind this arrangement was wonderful as the priest explained it. Water is poured into the perforated pot at regular intervals to bathe the form of the goddess. The water flows over the mirror which reflects her form in the clay idol standing in front, symbolically bathing her as it trickles into the pot below. At anytime, the Divine mother can be viewed through the mirror. A loaded chillum is offered along with incense next to the oil lamp. All other items are lined up to be offered during arti.

And then the dholak began, rhythm so profound that it could send anyone into a trance. My feet tapped the floor as I clapped following the beats and my heart danced into the night with the three mothers. It was the best Kali Ma arti I had ever seen! The beats grew stronger and faster and the priests held up the fire, dancing in divine trance as they showed the great mother the flame. Fire was followed by the fan, choury, shankha, mud pots with food offering, sindhur chubri with a small mirror, comb, bangles etc and sweets, bananas, and finally the dhoop. The evening came to an end and the drumming halted making us realizing how deafening this trance really was. Kali Ma worship came to a close as man and divinity slowly came out of their spiritual trance.

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