Every year, as October arrives, Munger begins brimming with the vibrance of upcoming festivities. The vibes of Durga Puja can be felt much before the twelve days mega-festival begins.
With Pooja Samitis across the town preparing for Maa Durga’s welcome, the entire town is lit up, loudspeakers resonate bhajans from street-light tops and security is tightened. I was introduced to the first phase of decorations during a ride to the post office for some official work with a colleague.
Elaborate entrances towards different Durga Sthals are the very first structures standing like the ones depicted below.
Astradhari or weapon bearing, all men akhadas pop-up in every mohalla from day one in Munger.
Walks like these are supposedly a show of strength in the name of Goddess Durga. Each mohalla has its own idol and men of all ages participate, even little boys. It was a little intimidating witnessing this for the first time. People flock to Munger in hundreds and there’s a palpable enthusiasm everywhere. Streets are crowded with people shopping for festive garments and jewellery, shop encroachments selling Puja Samagri and vendors serving finger-licking chaat and kulfi.
Munger doesn’t have the concept of pandals. There are permanent temples in each mohalla dedicated to the Goddess. Only framed pictures of the Goddess adorn the temple walls through the year, except during Pujo when magnificent, life-size Durga idol is seen piercing her trident through Mahishasur’s heart.
With the advent of Mahashtami, faith takes over everything else. Offices close down and people sit all night long in their locality temples performing jagran – chanting slokas and singing hymns.
At midnight, as Saptami (the seventh day of Navratra) begins, Nisha Puja is performed by priests to awaken and welcome Durga. This ceremony is performed in private by the priests where idols are adorned with real silver / gold embellishments and jewellery.
On Mahashtami I visited temples in different localities and was blown away by intricately sculpted and embellished idols, religiously worshiped by the masses. This is the day Durga is said to have headed to war against the demons. The main attraction is the family of Badi Dura Maharani, which includes the Badi Durga, Chhoti Durga, Badi Kali and Chhoti Kali.
The making of these idols is an art passed on within families, generation after generation, yet there has been no dilution of the masterly finesse. Artisans begin making these statues several months in advance. Clay and local soil of the region is layered over a bamboo frame, and the final sculpture is shaped with precise measurements. People say that over the last few years Durga Maa seems angrier. I think it’s the artists, but people’s faith is unfailing.
An important ritual called Sandhya Pujan is observed on the morning of the ninth day. The legend behind Sandhya Pujan comes from when Durga was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura and was attacked by the demons Chanda and Munda. Goddess Chamunda emerged from the third eye of Durga and killed Chanda and Munda at the cusp of Ashtami and Navami. Male goat kids, called paatha are sacrificed by devotees, though some temples in town perform a symbolic sacrifice by cutting of fruit.
These intense nine days of fasting end on Vijayadashami, the last day of Navratras. As the name suggests, it celebrates the victory of good over evil after Mahishasur, the buffalo demon, was defeated by Durga. Crowds throng Durga sthals over the last four fays and offer prayers before the idol is lifted for Visarjan (last ritual of immersion in a water body).
There are close to two hundred idols from Munger and surrounding areas that are queued for Visarjan over the next two days at Sojhi Ghat in Munger. The idols are rallied around town and to minimize danger due to interference with overhead electrical wires, electricity cuts for three straight days are the norm.
A belief that runs strong around Badi Durga Visarjan is that the palaki (palanquin) on which the idol rests can be lifted only by exactly thirty two devotees, not more, not less. The palanquin bearers carry the idol around town through the night, finally reaching Ganga ghat for immersion only by noon the next day. The temple priest, Prabhakant Mishra, says that one year the Munger administration arranged for a trolley for Visarjan, but the Goddess didn’t move one inch. Eventually she had to be lifted with the help of thirty two palanquin bearers. “Such is the power of Goddess Durga!”, you’ll hear people say. Though I wasn’t able to witness the final ritual of Visarjan in person, the accounts of locals paint a sad picture. Departure of the beloved Goddess after ten days of fasting, feasting and grandeur is an emotional affair. A sudden gloom takes over the entire town.
Some honest devotees also abhor the way immersion is carried out at the Ghats. Long hooks are used to pull out jewellery and idols are dumped into water along with all the respect that initially brought them to life.
Sometimes, I’m okay with having missed out on the disrespectful and polluted end to elaborate celebrations, but it’s impossible to miss people’s emotions running deep throughout the Durgotsav. Munger has taken its own time to come back to life, cycling at its own pace to a similar story next year.
- All images are clicked by the author
- Reference on details of the festival – Wikipedia