When Uma Meets Durga On An Ashwin Day
On the auspicious occasion of Mahalaya and Navaratri that marks the homecoming of Goddess Durga, Learning and Creativity presents a special picture story by two Dallas-based creative minds.
As talented artist Kusumika Ganguly, an artist and teacher based in Dallas, Texas, gives her beautifully soothing touch of artistry to a painting of Ma Durga, Durga Durgati Nashini, the supreme woman power of Hindu mythology on the auspicious eve of Mahalaya, the initiation of Devi Paksha, author Lopamudra Banerjee complements the painting with her memoir on how she perceives Uma and Durga and herself as a woman staying in the foreign shores, ten thousand miles away from her Bengali hometown. The piece is from the Durga series of her book ‘Woman And Her Muse’.
The translucent Ashwin sky… or, is it the early fall, in its last days of gestation? Almost like a recycled ritual, the opaque clouds meet me, once a day. They rub shoulders with me during my untimely trails, I pat their backs, and then, each goes his own trajectory.
“My Uma is the fresh crimson swirl in the jingle of my heart. Is she the one who you come looking for, when you come to meet me?” I ask them.
“Where is her dark red sari, the joyous dance of her anklets, the bronzed beauty of her chiseled body? She loves the chaos and the beautiful blend of the sassy and the volatile in the woman of today, doesn’t she?” They ask me.
I nod, with half a smile and half a spurn, for I know the Uma nestled within me, the way she tumbles and fumbles, the way her quaint music comes alive like metronome beats during those verdant Ashwin days.
“Don’t lose the Uma inside you, racing back to the kitchen, to the working desk, to the stairs leading to your indigestible daily rigmarole. But wait, you have lived your dream well, didn’t you?” They ask me back.
“My Uma is with me, safely tucked inside a drawer of my mahogany dresser. She is there in the body of an old yellow embroidered petticoat, a long-forgotten brooch and a mushy georgette sari which wears the bruises it caused. My Uma is with me, in the cheap roll-gold pendant, rust-laden, and the thin, round Shankha and Paula, that had adorned papery-thin wrists on a wedding night…. the initiation to the ritual of a well-embraced exile.” I reply.
“Long ago, you had shed your maiden clothes, but during your homecoming, be that transparent, uncouth girl again, a heart, nestled between the poetry, the euphoria and the anguish of your old, sacred nooks.” They amaze me as they look into my time-worn frame.
Thirteen years back, in a sultry Ashwin noon in my hometown, with short spasms of untimely rain, when Uma, Aparna, Parvati, the epithets of the daughter of the mountains became the Durga inside chaotic pandals, I didn’t know the vicissitudes of our lives, as the daughter, the woman, the wife, the mother. I did not know that Uma lived inside me, that I would drape my memories with her images, growing like broken wings inside me.
“I am here, guarding my multi-layered secrets well.” I tell them.
“My Uma sometimes stands, a fallen, nude moonbeam, looking at the mirror, and thinks about the onset of the month of Ashwin in an alien sky.” I tell myself.
“So what? Even the Uma, or Parvati, the daughter of the Lord of Himalayas and Mother Menaka in the myths and tales of the Indian purana lives far, far away from her father’s abode in the Kailash mountains…She has lived there, in the rims and crests of time, amid the crevices where humanity was born, didn’t she?”
The clouds carry their silken voices, floating, hovering over the miles and miles of distance between my maiden home where the ritual of ‘bodhon’ germinates and gains momentum, invoking Uma’s temporal presence in her father’s abode.
… But wait, there, the invincible Durga sits over the golden body of her lion, with one feet aggressively placed over the demon Mahishasur. She looks with the intent eyes of a valiant warrior, in her hands that hold her trident and the scimitar, sweat drops mingle with blood, the leaping flames of quite a manly triumph. I know her devouring dark, unforgiving tale that has traversed a long, long way….
Me, the Uma of the fallen times see myself prostrate at her feet in an unexpected homecoming. The Durga, in her age-old drapes and her familiar sacred form, I know, has seen through my carefully woven façade. I meet my own Uma, mingling with the Uma that crumbles before me to become the warrior mother Durga, our bodies meeting like two wild, wistful rivers that intersect in my hometown.
This mad Ashwin noon, the red of her sari, her vermilion dot glares in my eyes stinging with the holy ashes of my pain. Just a few days back, I flew down to the abyss of a motherless den, the pitch-black of a fatherless home. Our homecomings had been almost timed together, but the harmony was a mismatched one – hers filled with the aroma of flower offerings, scrumptious food and the mad mirth of a crowd, rejoicing, and mine was the closure of loved ones taken away by death’s icy grip, the nothingness of a home which would never wait for my return, ever again.
“Durga Ma,” I had told her silently, “Uma did return for a while, as you did, but I wish our stories of homecoming were the same.
“Every story of homecoming is an unwritten story of metamorphosis.” She told me through her large, painted eyes. “The metamorphosis of losing something close, but then taking something new from hitherto known, or even unknown people and places.”
I looked around at the dispersed crowd, the helter-skelter human voices cutting across my own void, the holy bells chiming at the auspicious hour and the children holding hands and singing, hopscotching till the barricaded corners. The self-same tunes of rituals come back to me in lucid memories, draped in new garbs and layers of understanding a lost childhood, an unspoken euphoria of bumping into familiar faces. A new-found love sprouts within me, springing up from the burnt contours and the darkness of my homecoming.
My own child, a baby girl of five gripped my hands in an unquestioned surrender, looking with gaping eyes at the huge idols, the decorated walls and the pandemonium of the pandal premises. The sweltering heat of the city, quite unlikely of Ashwin did bring her to an unknown cradle of her beginning, a cradle where her mother’s life rocked in a womb of remembrances.
“Come, baby girl, come to my arms, I will show you Durga Ma and her four children, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Karthik, Ganesh (the elephant God), the lion and the demon, Mahishasur.” One of my uncles say, and roams with my girl in his lap.
“This is your home, and like Uma, or Durga, the Goddess, you have come home now, with your mother.” He says, smiling wide. “Tell me, how many Durga puja pandals did you see in America?”
“One, two…” the child counts, clueless, surprised. “Here I will show you hundred!” Their eyes meet each other in gaiety, then she looked back at me, for assurance.
“Every story of homecoming is an unwritten story of metamorphosis.” The Uma inside me whispered in my ears again. There I walked amid the frenzied Durga Puja crowd, my body taken over by the wet world of a matriarchal celebration in a ghetto of my own being. I walked, displaced and assimilated yet again, my soul burning, aching in a hot pool of a home which I know, will wait for a new birth of me, in each of my homecoming trails.
Like the Durga I met a few yards away from home.
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