Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sumita Dutta writes

At Your Feet Ma
At your feet, Ma, my brush snakes,
And creates across the floor
The white lace of alpona – pure, ethereal and graceful.
And for your majestic adoration,
Vibrant reds, yellows, greens and blues
Fill in and stroke delicate leaves, petals and curlicues.
Then, as the floor sprouts to colorful life, I paint,
Feet planted between vines and whorls,
Back bent, silent, time and memories pirouetting.
Mates work, discuss, laugh, sing sometimes,
But I’m lost in you
Connected by my mother.
Years meander with my strokes, to the present - your gift -
Tears brim as I comprehend,
a self so flawed, bloodied.
The Least, brought today to address art at your feet.


  1. "The Durga (Mother Goddess) Puja festivities are celebrated annually around September/October. The designs on the floor, called alpona in Bangla,are part of one of the most auspicious occasions in my culture (Bengali)." -- Sumita Dutta

    Durga Puja ("Worship of Durga"), also referred to as Durgotsava ("Festival of Durga") is celebrated from the 6th to the 10th day of Ashwin in the Vikram Samvat calendar created by king Vikramaditya ("the Sun of Valour") of Ujjain in 57 BCE after defeating the Śakas (Scythians). All government offices, schools, colleges, and public institutions remain closed for 10 days, and private-sector institutions and businesses close for 3–4 days to a week. Bengalis celebrate with gifts and new clothes which they wear in the evenings when the families visit the thousands of pandals (temporary structures set up to venerate the goddess Durga; since the 1990s it has become increasingly popular for Puja committees to establish a particular theme, whose elements are incorporated into the pandal and the sculptures -- often these are ancient Egyptian or Inca civilizations or contemporary subjects like the "Titanic" or Harry Potter). The festival, the largest Hindu holiday of the year in West Bengal, marks the triumph of Durga (worshipped in Bengal as Durgotinashini, the destroyer of evil) over the Mahishasura, the son of the Asura (demon) king Rambha and a buffalo. After Brahma promised that no man could defeat him, he made war against Indra, the king of the Devas (gods) and defeated him. But Shivam Brahma, and Vishnu combined their divine energies to create Durga in order to kill him. Rites include the worship of her consort Shiva and her children Ganesha and Kartikeya. The worship of Durga, as stipulated by Hindu scriptures, should be in Chaitra (March/April), but the Ayodhya king Rama (''Maryada Purushottama," Perfect Man, Lord of Virtue, or Lord of Self-Control) had to invoke her in the autumn in his battle against king Ravana of Lanka; the monkey god Hanuman declared Rama to be a supreme being and proclaimed that all earthly problems may be resolved by chanting is name (moshka, the end of rebirth, can be achieved by chanting his name 10 million times).

  2. According to the "Markandeya Purana" king Suratha of the Chedi dynasty in Odisha started Durga Puja rituals in 300 BCE, and the worship of Durga with earthen sculpture in Odisha began in the 11th century at Puri during the reign of Chodaganga Dev. Although Durga was not fully integrated into the Hindu pantheon until the 16th century, she was fatured in Bengali litrtature as early as the 11th century. Early forms of Durgotsavs (Durga festivals) were primarily private worship in personal residences; the first one, in 1610, was celebrated by the Roychowdhuri family of Barisha. But during the 18th century, the worship of Durga became popular among the zamindars, the land aristocrats, of Bengal, who were enriched by emerging British rule; one of them, Raja Nabakrishna Deb, held an elaborate one in his residence in Kolkata (Calcutta) in 1757 in honor of Robert Clive's victory over the French at Plassey. In 1761 a dozen youths who were barred from a family Durga Puja formed a subscription committee to organize a public celebration in Guptipara. Thus the Durgostavs spread from individual homes into the public sphere heavily centerd on music, female dancers, and lavish feasts that continued for the entire month. In the 19th century, they changed from being a show of wealth and authority by royalty and merchants to become a less lavish festival of worship and community. In Kolkata, the first "Baroyari" ("baro" + "yar," 12 friends) Durga Puja was organised in 1910. Now Bengalis traditionally wake up at 4 AM on the morning on the first day to listen to the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra or Pankaj Kumar Mullick reciting the two-hour "Mahishashura Mardini" (Annihilator of Mahisasura) on the radio. Then, artisans who have fasted for a day paint the eyes on the clay statues of Durga and the others during Chakkhu Daan ("donation of the eyes"); the clay was collected from the banks of the Ganges or another river, and mixed with dirt from the "forbidden territories" of Kolkata where sex workers live. The entire process, from collection to ornamentation, is a holy process, supervised by rites and other rituals. It is a popular belief that Durga arrives and departs in some form of transportation which predicts people's lives for the coming year; for example, coming by boat signifies natural gifts like a good harvest, while leaving by horse signifies devastation. On the last day people take earthen lamps which have lighted coconut husks inside and dance in front of the goddess, married women smear each other with red vermillion powder; Durga Puja commemorates the annual visit of the goddess and her children to her parents' home and ends with her return to Shiva in the Himalayas, symbolized by her statues being immersed in the river while dhakis, ritual drummers, play their large leather-strung dhak and people loudly chant, "glory be to Mother Durga" and "it will happen again next year."


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