Shubho Mahalaya ~ Spirit of Durga Pujo!

Shubho Mahalaya! Picture taken at Komurtulli - the place where all the Pujo magic is created!
Shubho Mahalaya! Picture taken at Komurtulli – the place where all the Pujo magic is created!

I love grand festivals, and I cannot lie!

It’s true! As much as I once complained about water balloons and air pollution and goat sacrifice, I have now realized how festivals, when celebrated in the right spirit, are just another reason to have fun! Laugh a little, know your neighbors, forget about your work stress, dance with strangers on the street! And you know what’s more important about festivals? How they can become the reason someone falls in love with a city!

Hate the traffic all you want, but you can’t deny how joyous Mumbai is around Ganesh Chaturthi or Navratri. I visited Vrindavan during Holi this year, and even while I continue to hate being colored by known AND unknown people alike, I will count it as one of my top travel experiences. And you know another such great city-festival match made in heaven? Durga Pujo in Kolkata!

Now, I have visited Kolkata several times over the last few years, and not once did I enjoy it as much as I did over the 4 days of Pujo 2015! The city is alive, every face is lit up with a smile, every stranger has a greeting and every step has a bounce. Pandals go all out, not just with decorations and festivities, but also educational and environmentally friendly themes. In fact, ironic as it is, even while a vague attempt is visible at maintaining the religious motive of the festival, worship is the last thing on anyone’s mind. People are out there with their families, dressed up to the T, enjoying the lavish feast laid out at every pandal, dancing to the music, feasting their eyes to how colorful and vibrant the city is. Pujo in Kolkata is more a community gathering than a religious celebration.

And above all, what I loved about Pujo in Kolkata, the symbolism attributed to every idol of the imitable Goddess. 4 days of celebrating Durga as a mother of Saraswati (nowhere else do you see this), Durga as a warrior defeating the demon Mahishasura (Thus earning the title of Mahishasura Mardini), Durga as a daughter returning to her homeland for the autumn break, and Durga as our dearest motherland, basking in the glorious cries of Bandemataram (Hail Mother)!

I saved these pictures for all of last year, waiting to feel a little nostalgic while browsing through them, waiting for the start of Pujo 2016, waiting for Kolkata, and the rest of India, to welcome Mahisasuramardini once again! And today it is, Shubho Mahalaya everyone! 😀

 

Just chilling!
Just chilling!

 

A potters workshop in Komurtuli!
A potters workshop in Komurtulli!

 

A potters workshop in Komurtuli!

 

A potters workshop in Komurtulli!

 

In the making!
In the making!

 

A potter at work in his workshop at Komurtulli!
A potter at work in his workshop at Komurtulli!

 

A lady sitting on the street, making idols for Pujo!A lady sitting on the street, making idols for Pujo!

 

Adorning the palms of the Goddess with some traditional kumkum.
Adorning the palms of the Goddess with some traditional kumkum.

 

Painting the idol, one step at a time!
Painting the idol, one step at a time!

 

Multi-tasking is definitely one of the many powers!
Multi-tasking is definitely one of the many powers!

 

Finishing touches to the idol!
Finishing touches to the idol!

 

WIP at a potters workshop in Komurtulli!
WIP at a potters workshop in Komurtulli!

 

Artists taking a power-nap after a tough day at work!
Artists taking a power-nap after a tough day at work!

 

Customers taking their idols back home from the workshops!
Customers taking their idols back home from the workshops!

 

A pandit performing the traditional inititation puja on the first day after istallation of the idol at the temple!
A pandit performing the traditional initiation puja on the first day after installation of the idol at the temple!

 

You've gotta love the sarees, and you've gotta love 'em all!
You’ve gotta love the sarees, and you’ve gotta love ’em all!

 

The festival when everything is up and alive in Kolkata!
The festival when everything is up and alive in Kolkata!

 

A glorious idols of Durga at one of the pandals in Kolkata!
A glorious idols of Durga at one of the pandals in Kolkata!

 

A glorious idol of Goddess Durga at one of the pandals in Kolkata!
A glorious idol of Goddess Durga at one of the pandals in Kolkata!

 

Bright, colorful and full of life - one of my favorite idols from Durga Pujo 2015!
Bright, colorful and full of life – one of my favorite idols from Durga Pujo 2015!

 

The eyes that do all the magic! Shubho Mahalaya, yougaiz!
The eyes that work all the magic! Shubho Mahalaya, yougaiz!

 

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Holi – much more than gulaal for these Vrindavan widows!

Colors, flowers and SMILES! - What my Holi was like!
Colors, flowers and SMILES! – What my Holi was like!

HOLIDAY!!!!, is what Holi meant to me for all these past years. For others, it meant colors, pichkaari, water balloons, pool party, lots of dance (and bhaang)! But one Holi spent in Vrindavan, has changed my perception about the “festival of colors” altogether!

What is a festival of colors in other parts of India, is a festival of love in Mathura-Vrindavan! Here, the festival is celebrated for more than two weeks, in the memory of the eternal love of Radha-Krishna! This is evident in the way the locals celebrate the festival with so much love and adoration for the divine couple. Radhe-Radhe greetings greet you everywhere you go, sweet bhajans rise from every temple that reach your ears like a beautiful medley, people hugging each other, even strangers, and applying gulaal (without being creepy / lecherous), flocks of devotees walking from temple to temple with nothing but Krishan bhakti on their mind, the water of Yamuna and the winds of the land of Radha-Krishna dance along, as if watching and admiring this festive gathering!

This year, I broke the tradition of hiding in my house on Holi, with more than 1000 Vrindavan widows, who were themselves breaking every myth and tradition imposed upon them by the society! In a spectacular gesture by the NGO Sulabh International, this was the first time these widows celebrated Holi with colors and flowers, within the premises of a temple – and what a celebration it was! Watching these women smile, many of whom were disowned by their own families after the death of their husband…watching them dance, play, enjoy, be FREE…I can’t find the right words to explain that feeling! Many of these widows have spent all their life here, away from their family, only living one day at a time, the life they have now devoted to Lord Krishna – and today, it’s Holi, the celebration of Radha’s love for Krishna ji, and you see a Radha in each of them, all Radha’s dancing to the tunes of the flute of Krishna, like in a trance! I will stop trying to describe something that just can’t be, and leave you with a few pics that try to reflect what the festival of love in Vrindavan is all about!

Flower and Gulaal Holi for Vrindavan widows at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

 

Vrindavan widows celebrating Holi at Shri Radha Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan!

The best part about the day was how the entire village joined in the celebrations, from kids to families, they were all there, taking blessings from all the women!
The best part about the day was how the entire village joined in the celebrations, from kids to families, they were all there, taking blessings from all the women!

 

There's a Radha in all of us, and everyone is Krishna! :)
There’s a Radha in all of us, and everyone is Krishna! 🙂

 

This is my favorite memory from the day. When I took this picture, the kids hugged the women and they said “yeh mera pota hai (this is my Grand-Son”. After I walked away, I asked the kids if she was their Grand-Mom and they said no, but they let her say this because it makes her happy. While this would make some people sad, it made me happy, because even while their own family has disowned these widows, there are some people who are trying to bring a smile back in their lives!

 

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