Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Journey of Durga Maa in the Mortal World

Chapter 1 – Coming to Earth: Idol Making at Kali Mandir, Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi

On the day of Mahalaya, Goddess Durga is invited to come down to Earth from her celestial abode. This is the day when eyes are painted on the idols.

You are finally discovering a part of your old neighbourhood in CR Park, Delhi that unbelievably you have not seen before.

Those eyes are hypnotic - at Kali Mandir, Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi

In the premises of Kali Devi Temple, you are tiptoeing through the tiny aisles of the makeshift potter’s colony. Here on both sides are assembled Durga idols of all shapes. It is afternoon time and the workers are enjoying their siesta. Most of the work seems to have been completed by now - the forms of the idols and supporting characters are ready. The next day painting of eyes, face, hands will begin. The idols will be draped and then transported to the pandal sites.

Kali Mandir in CR Park, New Delhi
Surrounded by ten-armed Durgas in the dimly lit tent is kind of surreal as light and shadows interplay.

Durga Maa with her kids and vahan Lion and Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati

This is how it all begins: Clay - The building material

The palette that brings the clay to life

Now that's what you call attitude - the wisest and the most endearing bird; also the vahan of Goddess Lakshmi

Chapter 2 – Days on Earth: Pandal at Kashmere Gate, Delhi

On the day of Mahashashthi, the Goddess arrives on Earth accompanied with her children. It is also believed she is visiting her maika or father’s home.

Goddess Durga is also known by names like Parvati, Ambika and Kali. She is a form of Shakti worshipped for her gracious as well as her terrifying aspect. In divine form she is spouse of Shiv and mother to Ganesh and Kartik. But when tyranny and evil arises, she miraculously appears to kill the monster-demon bull Mahishasur.

Mahasaptami, Mahaastami and Mahanavami are the three days of Durga Puja during the Navratras. Mahanavami is celebrated on Ashwin Shukla Paksha according to the Hindu calendar. Goddess Durga is worshipped as Aparajita on this day. Mahishasuramardhini Puja is also observed on this day.

The Oldest Pandal in Delhi at Kashmere Gate

In Delhi, the Kashmere Gate pandal is believed to be oldest. The pandal must have been first set-up by the Bengalis who accompanied the British to Delhi during the shifting of capitals. Just beyond the Civil Lines metro station, you enter the grounds of Bengali Senior Secondary School.

Set in pink shamiana is the beautiful divine Goddess Durga giving her blessings to the devotees. In early evening the premises are quiet with few people. You like it this way instead of the commercialised venues most pandals have become.

Bengali Senior Secondary School; established in 1899 where the action takes place

Chapter 3 – Going Back to Celestial Home: Immersion at Yamuna Ghat, Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi

On Dashami, a grand and tearful farewell is given to the Goddess. The day starts with married women playing Sindoor Khela where they apply red sindoor or vermillion to the Goddess and to each other. Later the idol is carried to the river for immersion that signifies Durga leaving Earth for her celestial home or leaving father’s home to go back to her husband’s home in the mountains.

According to Ramayana, when Lord Ram was in the middle of war with Ravan, he invoked the Goddess to seek blessings for victory. This puja was held in fall or month of Ashwin, when normally the puja is held during spring or Basant. Therefore, this untimely puja is also called Akalbodhan.

Goddess Durga is customarily worshipped with 100 neelkamals or blue lotuses. Ram could gather only 99. For the 100th flower, He offered his eye. The Goddess was pleased and gave her blessings. The battle started on Saptami and Ravan was killed at Shandhikshan (transition) of Ashtami and Navami. Ravan was cremated on Dashami and therefore it is also called Vijaydashami or Dusshera.

At the Yamuna Ghat in Kalindi Kunj, preparations for the immersion that will continue late into the night are complete. There are separate entry and exit points for trucks as they stream in bringing the idols of the Goddess along with devotees dancing to the dholaks. Cranes lift the idols and bring them to the banks. Here the suspended idols are twirled and as the dholak beats reach a crescendo they are lowered into the water. The devotees seek final blessings and watch her wistfully go into the water to her home in the immortal world.  

Here is her journey on her way back to Kailash:

Bringing the Goddess to the river

A long procession of trucks driving from Kalindi Kunj to Yamuna Ghat

The CR Park Durga is the most different - all white

Carrying Durga Maa to the river bank

Everything about this was different - the pretty idol with just the face, the puja conducted with the women making the typical Uludhini sound, and then the group goes into the waters carrying earthen pots on their heads - all very sweet, intimate and so loving

The Farewell Celebrations

Love the Dhaaks - colourfully attired and embellished

Don't know what they are smoking; but since they are from Alaknanda they are forgiven!

She is Beautiful

Final Goodbyes - Maa ready to leave with her family

The Rituals

The Immersion

The Crowds

The security arrangements are good with a posse of cops paramilitary on standby

Yamuna froths and stinks, the dust is making it difficult to breathe but people come out looking their best

United Colours

Devotees show up in the colours of their local Puja Committees

Gotta love them sarees!

Water Sports

Gymnastics on Water

Beating up a lather

How many cops can you fill in a boat?

Swimming and Smoking - Yamuna is polluted and dying but still provides sustenance to people

Now did I break the record?
New Liril Ad

The Incorrigible Photographers!

We Love Playing with Danger - at Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi

We will do anything for the shot

The Aftermath

The gasping Yamuna suffers a seizure

Last Look

These pictures of Durga floating on the water are the most poignant

May the blessing be with you

As part of discussion on social media about the idea behind the immersions our Gods and Goddesses, Gitanjali Mohanty has come up with some explanations:

Not all of our customs which are followed have a very clear cut logic or reason to it.. But the possible reasons why this ritual of Visarjan or Immersion [ for clay idols of Durga, Ganesh, Saraswati, Laksmi, Kali etc] is followed may be as follows:

1. The ceremony marks the farewell of the deities to their abodes and is accompanied by the belief that, after being worshipped, the idols must be immersed in water because only Mother Earth can bear their power and energy. 
2. It is our belief that everything is made up of the five elements [Pancha-bhoota] and will one day get mixed with the Elements itself… [Dust to dust].. Historically, idols were mostly made from clay and treated at the time of the rituals with turmeric and other herbal products which prevented pollution of the water bodies. Now-a-days though non-clay materials, plaster-of-paris, harmful chemicals and paints and even metals have come into use in idol preparation. Consequently, their immersions are leading to significant water pollution and have become a serious health concern for humans, local aquatic ecology and the environment.
3. Another prevalent belief is that at the beginning of Puja the God/Goddess is invoked by chanting mantras for a particular number of days and if you wish to keep the idols for more number of days you have to offer special daily Pujas offer Naivediams, etc. as per the custom. This is another reason for immersing the idols in the nearest water body.
4. If you are looking for a Spiritual explanation, Hindus worship “Brahma” or the Supreme Soul present in all animate and inanimate. But for majority of the people it is not possible to worship this formlessness. After the celebrations, it is time to accept the eternal cosmic law that which took form has to become formless again. It is a never ending cycle (Chakra). The idols are made from clay and it has to become clay again. [similar to point no.2].
5. It is also said that Earth is the “nainihaal” of Goddess Durga… N after her earthly stay, she returns back to Lord Shiva.



  1. nice post! Maa Durga always blesses her devotees when in danger or facing hardships, At home daily atleast once I chant durga mantra , Jai Durga maa...

    1. Hi Shravya,

      Yes Maa Durga helps us out during our times of difficulties. And especially when evil rears its ugly head. And now that you say, I will also try to remember Maa every day!

      Thanks for reading and do follow Her journey when she comes back into our world next year!