On the day of the Bisorjon I get loads of happy Dussehra greetings. Bisorjon is a sad time and the Bijoya Sammilani a way of huddling together with friends and family to celebrate the aftermath of an exhausting festivity. The Dussehra greetings seem so out of place and useless then. Here we have this enormous Goddess created through myths and imaginations of the mind and there we have the pithy guy called Ram who is trying hopelessly to be God. The epics were most probably compiled out of a collection of folk tales during the Guptas in the 4 CE but these were revived and rewritten copiously from the 11th century onwards and by the 17th centuries we have thousands of versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata coming from all over the Indian subcontinent and in the various vernacular languages which grew threw such rewritings of the epics.
Interestingly the period of resuscitation of the epics corresponds to the age of the Muslim conquests which sometimes could establish political power as in Delhi but for most of the times were a nuisance as in Bengal, indulging in the purest form of goondaism so amply cited in the biographies around Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Muslim Bengal never really constituted a political or an economic power for these remained with the local Rajas and the zamindars but yes, they did assume some form of central authority on the might of violence by which they claimed swathes of lands rampaged by their hooligans as being subjected to Islam. To stand up against the Muslim rule that often forced conversions rose Hinduism to revive itself. The Gita may have been the first attempt at bringing Hinduism at par with Islam for here was the Book for the Hindus spoken by a God in first person claiming that the human surrender to Him unconditionally and unquestioningly just as in the Abrahamic texts. The Ramayana also was an epic around a singular and a unique hero who stood for everything that was noble and heroic and therefore extremely susceptible to becoming God.
Ram worship which used to be mostly in the form of a Ramlila, a dramatic performance that became an occasion for discussing public values and morals of kings and heroes and such narratives had the most wonderful effect of placing the Dharma of Kings against the emergent British power, especially as we know that there was a strain on the economy leading to suffering of the common people. The Durga Puja was not a protest but an ostentation, by the local Rajas, many among who, if we are to go by the Raychowdhuries and the Daws, the Malliks and the Dorjipara actually did very well during the British rule. Ramlila’s flavour is vernacular while that of Durgapuja is Renascent, it is intrinsically universal, victorious and regal. Ramlila is of subjects, Durgapuja is by sovereign kings. This is why in the days of the Rightwing politics, the vernacular culture, defeated by modernity seeks Ram, the sovereign Bengali culture, redeemed by modernity seeks Durga.
Durga has a Puranic entity in which she is a demon slayer, and what a slayer she is for she kills that demon that no male God can kill. As the chants of the Mahalaya begins we hear how the various celestial celebrities give their weapons to her, to me it always seems that they are giving up their weapons to her. Durga collects these arms and then she slays Mahishasur, the great guy from Mysore, the great devotee of Lord Shiva, her husband. We don’t know what wrong the Mysore guy commits but he needs to be slain for he threatens to challenge the fair skinned Gods. Durga is a capable woman, for she has shown enough might in her abilities to suffer, she abounds in self-confidence, being the daughter of the richest King on earth and she is willful for she goes against every well-wisher of hers to marry this much older drug addict and alcoholic, Shiva who does not even have a proper roof over his head. Durga is invincible also because of her love for Shiva, her affections for her children, her tolerance of Brahma and Bishnu both of who are her sons in law. So she is the ultimate sovereign, no one is more powerful than her. Hence she is invoked to undo this Mysore man and in the process undo the boons of none other than her beloved husband. Shiva has never asserted himself against her except the time when he tried to fool around with Ganesha and according to some versions even behead the little boy. Durga was so angry that not only had Shiva to restore the child to life but also give him the pride of place as Ganesha must be invoked before we invoke any Deity of Hinduism. Whatever be the conditions of his birth, Ganesha does not have Shiva’s sperms and represents the ultimate power of Durga to have a child without sex. Interestingly, those who follow the lunar calendar say that Mother Mary was born on Mahalaya day, so strange because Durga as the warrior Goddess was too born on that day, both being virgin mothers.
Durga in Bengal is worshipped only as a community God and not as a personal God. There is no everyday worship of her precisely because she is simply does not live in the abode of her devotees. On the days of her worship, Bengalis welcome her as the daughter who has come home. She is a victorious daughter, a powerful Being, contented in her moorings in Kailash and looks so happy. But Bengalis cannot get over the fact that this Princess of all Princess, the pampered daughter of the King of all Kings must vacate her material comforts to live in the harshness of the mountains. So when she comes with her children Bengalis go overboard trying to compensate her ascetic existence with the bounties of the world, food, clothes, ornaments, music, dance, gaiety and others. Durgapuja is Bengal’s greatest cultural show on earth. Ramlila is a stage performance, no more than that.
Durgapuja is a unity, an accumulation, a consolidation and an aggregation. It sucks in zillion entities within it. Some local boys have formed a music band, play it for the Pujos, the poet has composed some poetry, publish it for the pujos. Those who squirm at the resplendent pandals saying that this is waste of money are not economists for they do not see the millions of homes sustained through the Durga Puja economy. The money for the outrageous show comes out of donations, small enough so as not to hurt one’s pockets too much, mostly collecting advertisement budgets of corporate houses, the pandals snatches away from budgets of the media houses. The proportion of money spent individually is too small but when aggregated for Durga becomes huge.
Immersion is crucial to Durga. It creates space for fresh spending again next year and so we say Ashchhe Bochhor Abar Hobe. The worship of earthen idols and their immersion is not intrinsic to Hindu worship. The Jagannath undergoes a renewal of its wooden body in nabakalebar. But the earthen idol, the Pandal and the immersion have been crucial to making a pujo into a community affair, a vehicle for the circulation of wealth. The Ramlila simply has no comparison to this grandiose of the Durga Puja made possible through a massive circulation of wealth. The Bisorjon is an ending just as the Mahalaya is a beginning. For the Bengalis it is the Durga Puja that marks the beginning and the end of time, we live from Pujo to Pujo.
The Ramlila is not a Time marker, it is a seasonal affair and though some scholars have tried to trace a whole lot of livelihood and community ties of obligations around the Ramayana, they have not been able to establish it in the same vein as the Durga Puja.
But let us never imagine that the Durga Puja is the tradition of Bengal for just step outside the city or beyond the high walls of the erstwhile zamindars all we see is a sleepy village that wakes up not until much later with the Nabanna and the Raas and then there is the worship of the harvest, the paddy, the fields and the foods. Gods and their idols are aggregated symbols that we actually super imposed on traditions and may not be traditions of Bengal. The idol is an aggregator, brought into worship when we want to collect the forces of the community and not necessarily keep playing through tradition in order to reproduce the community over and over again. This is why the idol worship invokes so much of innovative ness.
The Ramlila is a theatre group, a rock band whose relationship to the community is like any other performance group, to entertain through a product. It is neither nor can ever be as participative as the Durga Puja where the life of the Goddesses, her pains and her achievements, her sufferings and her victories, her well being and hardships, her joys and resentments are acutely felt in every Bengali’s body and soul for she who is so dear to us must suffer so on account of a marriage we were so helpless to prevent. This is why when she goes away all she does is to give us pain by making our homes empty all over again. This emptiness makes us calm emptying us of our energies for quite some time to come, carrying us calmly through the rest of Autumn and the winter and not before the spring comes again with the Noboborsho really that we are over with our sense of missing the daughter. Ramlila ends by arousing our ego and our violence, it gives us the smugness of having killed a guy by maiming him first and then by blowing him up. The violence and its celebrations jar the solemness of Bijoya Dashami. If there is something that indeed can calm us and get the evil out of us, it is the Bijoya Dashami and not the Ramlila, for the effect of the latter is quite the opposite of calmness. Rest of India, if they are seriously looking to overcome the evil must come into the Bisorjon, the dead calm of the water that carries our darling daughter away from us again and again. But for this, the rest of India must love their daughters as much as the Bengalis love ours.