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Goddess of all things

SHIVA, THE Destroyer in the Hindu trinity, when he heard of the misdeeds of His devotee, the demon Mahisasur, was so enraged that from his `third' eye he created a woman, `Shakti', who would destroy all evil and protect the righteous. So was born Goddess Durga, the mother who, besides propitiating her worshippers, also protects them.

Durga puja invokes a strong religious and cultural fervour among the Bengalis. In Kochi, the small but close knit Bengalis celebrate the festival with as much ardour, recreating a mini Kolkatta, with Puja pandal, dhol, dhak, tangail saris, misti dhoi and Rabindra sangeet.

The Kerala Banga Sanskriti Sangh leaves no stone unturned in getting the Kolkatta flavour here, down south.

With `Bodhon' (consecration of the deity), on October 11, activities are in full swing for the celebrations to start. The deity of the goddess is the focal point of the Puja.

Artisans Tarapodo Mete and his son Shimonto have come all the way from Kolkatta to make the awe-inspiring idol. A long drawn process, Idol making requires besides skill, a keen artistic eye, for the deity, not only inspires wonder but immediate veneration.

Very fine clay is collected from the Hooghly riverbed and brought here. The rest of the raw materials like straw, jute and regular clay and plaster of Paris are got locally.

Idol making involves three stages. The straw and jute prototype is first covered with a watery clay solution, more water than clay, so as to fill the gaps between the straw moulds. The second coat is the most important as the clay mixture (sticky clay mixed with sawdust) is slapped on and smoothened to give a near final cast. Head, palms and feet are made separately and joined to the torso later.

The joins are sealed with extreme care. The figure is then painted in a body colour of either white or pink and then adorned with rich costume and ornaments. Tarapada and Shimanto have brought along with them the armaments, which the goddess holds in her eight hands. The weapons with which she destroys evil-`khadaga' and `trishul', the `shankh', `chakra' and others are brought down from Kolkotta, including the Goddess's robes, tresses and jewellery. Sculpting the head of the deity requires special expertise and only the very experienced can do so. The Pals of Bengal are known artisans who, for generations, have breathed life into the idols and though the Mete father-son duo does not belong to that clan, idol making has been their profession for years. The final detailing which requires subtle and masterstrokes is left for the very last and for the expert finesse of Tarapodo.

It is the expression in the eyes of the idol, which generates, fear, love, reverence and devotion. For this divine look the eyes of the Goddess are made in the dead of night with no onlookers. At a time when silence, darkness and divinity fuse to inspire the artisan to give the eyes the mixed aura of cruel anger to punish the evil and the forgiving kindness of a mother who blesses and protects. `Chokudaan', as it is known in Bengali, is perhaps the most important aspect of idol making, for it is the eye of Durga, which speaks to the worshippers, a different and special language to each one.

"A Durga statue costs approximately Rs 15,000, says Mr Goswami, President of the Bengali Association. Besides making the Durga idol, the artisans have also made Kali deity for Kali Puja, Lakshmi for Diwali , Jagatdhatri for Rash Purnima and the season ending with Saraswati puja in early January."

The Durga deity will be consecrated on 11th October when the Puja festivities begin. Visarjan or the immersion of the idol takes place at the Naval Base in Katari Bagh

A common belief is that the times to come are portended on how the Goddess arrives and leaves. This time, according to the almanac, she rides a horse and leaves on one too... a sign of disturbances ... only to be smoothened out with her prowess.

PRIYADARSHINI SHARMA

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