Durga puja at Kaali Bari and Kanya pujan ..in Simla of the Sixties

Durga puja at Kaali Bari and Kanya pujan ..in Simla of the Sixties

It was a pure blessing of goddess Kali that Kalo of the Lower Bazaar would bow her head, almost everyday, first before the two lions that guarded the Kali Bari temple and then would go inside the temple to pay obeisance to Kali Maa. The routine was not much changed throughout my school days except when I was in ninth and tenth class and walking back taking the Mall road was considered more fashionable. In those two classes I had entered the ” world of experience from the world of innocence”. Abd then I didn’t want to miss any episode of the Miss Simla preparation by one of our classfellow.

But today I want to ponder over my “world of innocence”… when I would experience immense joy even by holding prasad in my palm and putting that in my mouth little by little. Though Kali Bari was everyday magnificent with the idol of Maa Kali in all its finery and ferocity. We could bow our head right at the entrance to the sanctum santorum of Maa , there being no barricades if any kind….not even the brass rdiling that bars the devotees to come much near the Maa.

But Kali Bari Mandir would, especially, come alive with a passion and frenzy during Navratra Durga Puja. The passion for festivity started much earlier and we the, spectators, were an integral part of the much happening Simla event

While coming back from school, we would enter the hall adjoining the Kali Bari temple from the rear door and watch in utter admiration the artisans from Calcutta working on the idols of Maa Durga, Saraswati, the lion, Bhairon the demon etc. etc

How the artisans would make the shapes using a particular grass and covering it with a special mud. It was awe inspiring to watch it happen before our eyes, but sometimes someone from the Kali Bari temple would shoo away the children but it could not snatch the image engraved in our mind. Every single day we would watch the idols taking a proper form. What a beauty it would be…a human or animal body taking a shape before our very eyes…day by day!!! They would keep the image covered with a makeshift curtain as Maa needed privacy. And we felt that She was somewhere quite near, hovering by the idol.

The magnificent golden red saree draped around Maa Durga complemented with jewelléy and white crown would make her deadly and adoring at the same time.

While all the Bengali friends would be in festive mode, I, too, would be part of the crowd looking at face of Maa Durga. Chandra would say that Maa Durga embodies the idol these nine days and I would wait that she would give her benign darshana to me as well.

Meanwhile at the Kali Bari temple devotees would throng with all paraphernalia to appease Maa Kali. On top of all other items would be red dupatta adorned with intricate designs of Gota and golden laces. How I would like to have it. Sometimes thd Pujari in his excitement and benevolence would throw a dupatta at the crowd there. The fortunate one would get it. How I wished it to come my way…..I wished that some day Chandra’s Baba would catch my attention and give me one of those dupattasit it never happened. And I would be sad as why Kali Maa is not giving me that red dupatta.

I can laugh full throated today thinking what would I had gone with that red dupatta…thete was no need for me to get one but because someone else was getting it, I would be jealous why it had not to be me? This is what life is. We decry loss of or not getting certain things which we don’t even need but feel bad ehy others are getting it.

And there at the Durga Puja pandal Chandra would put her books at the feet of Maa on one special day to get blessings of Maa Saraswati. I, too, wished to keep, if not my entire basta, atleast a few of my books there.

I sincerely believed that Bengalis have a sharp mind because of Rohu fish and putting their books at the feet of the idol of Maa Saraswati where she blesses those sometime when She visits that Pandal.

So I had another excuse to explain why Chandra was so intelligent. My life would be so busy those days. I had to keep track of the new dresses that my Bong friends were wearing everyday…a new dress for every day!!! The few non-Bengali ones who were getting those red dupattas at the Kali Bari temple and the books which were put at the Pandal so that Maa Saraswati would bestow Her blessings on!!!

But despite these few concerns life was so much exciting, lively and divine during those days of Durga Puja as I was much sought after Kanya, along with my elder sister, in the neighbourhood for kanya pujan every single morning before going to the school.
And some of the neighbourhood Massis would bestow us, the Kanyas with red dupattas adorned with Gota and golden kinari…. Maa Durga was definitely listening to my prayers!!!

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