Glory to the goddess of strength
It was the celebration of a time-honoured Indian tradition touching the shores of Jamaica. From October 5 to 8, Club India, on Lady Musgrave Road, Kingston, was transformed into a bedecked neighbourhood of Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta), where during this time of the year, festivities, myriad tastes, and unfathomable whiffs of culinary aromas take centre stage. It is the beginning of the festive season with Durga Puja (prayers to the goddess of strength), one of the major Hindu festivals primarily celebrated in the Eastern Indian state of West Bengal.
The ceremonies at Club India were a combination of the religious with the usual accompaniment of dance, music, and food.
Traditionally in India, the idols of the goddess are made from clay collected from the banks of the River Ganges. Here, one thought outside of the box – literally and figuratively. The idols were carved out of Styrofoam by artist and priest Asim Chakraborty, who inspired the rest to initiate the event.
What began as an idea culminated with a successful event, in which people – both Indians and Jamaicans – across faiths came to partake in or witness the ceremonies. The event was inaugurated by High Commissioner of India to Jamaica M. Sevala Naik on Saturday, October 5. On Sunday, High Commissioner of Britain to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, who traces his parental lineage to Kolkata and Chittagong in Bangladesh, graced the occasion.
Each day started with the veneration performed by Chakraborty to the chanting of shlokas or prayers, infused with the fragrance of incense sticks ( agarbattis) and the lightning of the lamp ( diya). Post this, there was music and dance performed by selected members of the Kingston Bengali Association and their friends.
Every year, Hindus across the world celebrate this festival, which also marks the victory of good over evil in many manifestations. It also marks the start of autumn or fall.
The festivities in Kingston were not to be left behind. A significant feature of the Durga Puja is the traditional dance by men and women with earthen clay pots filled with dry coconut husks, and camphor, which are lit up. The smoking lamps are the centre piece of the dance Dhunuchi.
Dhunuchi in Bengali (the language spoken in Bengal) is the name given to the clay pot designed specifically for the ceremony. Women and men dance to the beats of the dholak (cylindrical shaped drum), the drummer holding the dhunuchi in one hand. This was the first time such a dance was done in Kingston with pots made by local ceramic artists along with beats of the tasa drums from Clarendon.
In Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga is said to possess splendid beauty and is regarded as one of the most powerful gods in the universe. It is said that her face was sculpted by Lord Shiva, the symbolic10 hands by Lord Vishnu, armed with weapons bestowed by the gods themselves, and her legs are said to have been carved by the Creator Lord Brahma.
The ceremonies last for nine days, on the ninth night (Navami), victory of good over evil is celebrated by praising the goddess, chanting hymns, which convey our thanks and gratefulness. On the 10th day (Dashami), the goddess returns home to heaven, and it is time to bid farewell.
Traditionally, the idols are immersed in a water body (river, stream, or the sea). This was not the case here. A round copper vessel with holy water was sprinkled on the idols, and the water from the vessel was immersed in the Caribbean Sea.
It is also a symbol of well-wishing and culminates in mutual greetings and wishes for a blessed year ahead. As the excitement faded, the joy, blessings, and reverence of the goddess remained in everyone’s hearts – waiting in anticipation for her to return next year.