Saturday, 26 December 2015

The beautiful festival from Seemandhra explored by me with the help of my bestie Sandy which helped me to visualize that every tradition has got a scientific explanation of it's performance.  

Samralu – The Experience Of A Festival Celebrating Daughters In A Seemandhra Village

SamraluOne of my happiest memories are of Samralu, the festival of giving thanks, celebrated in every village of Seemandhra in July. I had the chance to experience it thanks to Sandy, my best friend, whose family invited me to their village for the festival.
It was late July, 2011 and the heat of Kolkata, combined with the traffic jams, was making life difficult at R.G. Kar Medical college, where we were posted for post-graduate training. The phone call by Sandy’s dad inviting us for Samralu was just the break we needed, and we set off after a few days. Sandy had visited her village several times yet would be witnessing this festival for the first time, so we were both really excited. We boarded the Falaknuma Express from Howrah station at 6.45 a.m., and Sandy’s elder sister with family joined us at Bhubaneswar. Around 5.30 p.m., we reached our destination Palasa, where Uncle (Sandy’s dad) and some other villagers had come to greet us, excited that someone from other part of India had come to their village to witness the festival.
A local tempo (a bigger version of the auto rickshaw) took us over a rough, red-soiled road to Chen-wanka, about half an hour away, a small town of around 40 families. We stopped at a tall Hanuman idol, and we were told (Sandy interpreting for me, making it easy for us to converse) that this was the mukhya dwar (main entrance) to the village, protected by the deity.
The three day festival was to start the next day. There were decorative lights everywhere. That evening, we went to the main temple at the heart of the village, where the whole village seemed to have gathered. Sandy’s dad introduced me to the main members of the village panchayat, including theMukhia – the headman, who was delegating festival responsibilities to the villagers. Every panchayat member was wearing around the neck an Assamese fulam gamcha, a hand-woven towel. Immediately my heart was overwhelmed with an unknown emotion. I asked the Mukhia whether he had ever visited Assam. He had not.
“How do you know about this tradition of gamcha?” I asked.
“I know it’s from Assam & that it’s given as a sign of respect and honour. So adopted this custom in the 1940s, and get these from Assam for these festivals!” he replied.
On the way to Sandy’s home I asked Uncle what the festival was about. He answered, “During this festival the girls from each home are invited to their father’s home along with family. They are given new dresses and fed with their favourite food.”
“Why?” I asked. “You see,” he answered, “Usually married daughters did not get enough rest at their in-laws’ place, they could not spend much time with their parents and siblings. Although nowadays it might not be so, this is just a tradition which we villagers have tried to keep alive. It’s a get together of family members every year.”
“Why is it called a festival of thanks-giving for the village?” I asked.
Uncle answered, “We believe our village is like our daughter who does so much for her family. We build homes over her, plough her to sow the grains and reap the fruits. She always is on our side and bears with us. At times of need we sell her but still she remains silent and sacrifices herself. Just like a girl is uprooted from her family, gets married into an unknown family, and bears all the responsibilities for the next generation. So we started this festival where we pay homage to the Devi of our village.”
Interesting! I asked about the rituals of the festival. “Every village has their own Devi who protects them. She is summoned asAmmoruAmma means mother. Every girl is called Amma. You’ll see when it starts tonight,” I was told.
I waited with barely suppressed excitement. Around midnight a blowing of horns and beating of drums filled the air, startling me. We rushed outside where a great gathering was passing by holding large baskets of flowers and gas lanterns. At the front was the main pandit (priest) of the village dressed in red dhoti, accompanied by a red-saree-draped lady representing the deity. The gathering reached the temple of the Devi. “Inside the temple, only after a flower from the idol falls on the lap of the lady dressed in red, is it considered that the Devi has accepted the invitation of entering the village for three days,” Sandy told me.
“Does this really happen?” I asked. “What if the flower doesn’t fall?”
“Then there won’t be any Samralu celebration,” answered Sandy’s father, above the din of the beating drums.
At this point, the flower must have fallen, for a large crowd of women pushed past me and ran towards the red-clad lady who was holding a large basket above her head, walking towards the main temple. They spread their saree pallus in front of her to walk on – she was now the deity, and must not put her feet on land. Some of them dancing – the celebrations had started.
On reaching the temple, she was welcomed by some other ladies, who washed her feet with water and touched them. She went within the temple and placed the flower over a podium. Thus, the deity came within the village to celebrate Samralu along with the villagers, everyone of who were there to welcome their daughter home.
We were up early at 4 a.m. the next day. Most of the family were already up and dressed in their finest. As we finished a quick breakfast, we heard the rolling of drums outside. A gathering stood in-front of Sandy’s house, headed by another lady dressed in red, holding a pot on her left side of the waist and a bunch of neem leaves in her right hand. Aunty (Sandy’s mother) rushed outside drenched the lady with a bucket of water although she was already wet. Next, she placed some of last night’s cooked rice in her pot. The lady mixed the rice with the ingredients within the pot, ate some of it and placed the left-overs on the plate brought by aunty. She brushed everybody with the bunch of the neem leaves she was holding, as a sign of blessing, and everyone touched her feet.
I was curious at this exchange and asked Uncle why Aunty put left-over rice in her pot. Surely, we should offer fresh food asprasad for a deity? Uncle smiled. “She the Devi, who is supposed to be a part of the family, even if a guest. If breakfast is finished, a family member will happily have yesterday’s left-overs. So she is happy with what we give her, and something has to be given, as we cannot have a guest leave without eating something.” I nodded.
After that, we went visiting some of Sandy’s relatives, whom we too, invited over to her place for lunch the next day. A special invitation came for both of us from every home of the village for lunch or dinner. I felt as if I were the daughter of the village whom they wanted to show their love for her.
At sunset, we visited the main temple where the ladies of the village got together to perform the next ritual. There a large boat had been decorated beautifully. All the ladies were offering bangles, kumkum, whole grains within it. Aunty explained, “In the evening this boat will be sailed to our deity’s home. It’s a representation of showing gratitude to her for the protection she gives us. The Mukhia will offer clothes to her tomorrow.”
In the evening, there was a song and dance programme put up by the local performers. Epics were sung, along with a Radha-Krishna dance, a fisherman dance, and a warrior dance – this was very interesting, where skilled dancers showed off moves for self-protection. The dancers were all boys, some of them disguised as girls.
The next day, too, started before the break of dawn. The men of the village set out to the nearby forest to cut five big trees, among them banyan and neem, to make a huge chariot to be used for the final ceremony on the third day of the festival. Each tree was worshipped and apologized to, before it was cut down.
Sandy and I were given haldi paste to apply to our bodies. We were told that this was a natural sunscreen and antiseptic, and also a sign of good health and prosperity. I remembered something told by my grandmother in my childhood, “Every festive ritual has got a scientific reason behind it which has been transformed into some-sort of misconceptions by some orthodox people who want to show their power over the others.” Soon, guests began to arrive and were greeted by Sandy’s family. By now I, too, had become a part of their family, and every guest interacted with me, too. I was overwhelmed by their simplicity, and the affection they showed towards me, and I could easily speak to them thanks to my interpreter.
For lunch, garelu was served with chicken at the very beginning of the feast, followed by rice, dal, vegetable and fish curry, ending with sweets. Every one sat on floor to eat irrespective of who they were, and ate with pleasure. Gifts of clothes with haldi, kumkum, and bangles were distributed to the daughters. After that, Sandy and I visited every home to which we had been invited. We refused any food offered there, but were pressed upon to eat with a lot of love and affection. By the time we returned to Sandy’s home our tummies were so full!
Evening skipped in quite fast, and again the local performers came to give their performances. But, today I noticed a new thing. The boys who were disguised as girls were wooing some girls of the village, interacting in a 1950s fashion. I was quite surprised by this and asked one of Sandy’s elder brothers about this. “In ancient times the girls weren’t allowed to get out much except for drawing water from well, or farm related work. So there wasn’t much chance of boys and girls meeting,” he answered. “During this festival every year the boys disguised as girls come to the village for this programmes, looking for girls on the first day. The next day they would have an interaction among themselves. If they liked each other, then their families would interact and get them engaged. Nowadays although there are no such restrictions, this ritual is maintained to remember that.” So this was a way to get married in the old days!
When we returned home, there was a large group of villagers waiting to meet us. Here I came to know Sandy was the first post-graduate student from their village and the villagers were really proud of her achievement. It was wonderful to see their pride in her!
By the time we could go to bed, it was almost 3 in the morning. After a scant two hours of sleep we had to get up and get ready. Sandy’s mother and elder sisters had already prepared food and yummy sweets. I was surprised by their stamina, as my body was already protesting with tiredness. The family then went to their paddy field, surrounded by large cashew-nut trees, where there were rituals thanking their ancestors.
Soon, guests started to arrive, but today they consisted of the elders of the village. While serving food to them I found that interestingly, there was no special arrangements for the widows. They all ate together, and were even given the same gifts accept the kumkum.
I was curious about the practice, which seemed to be very different from what I had generally seen. I asked Uncle, “In orthodox Hindu family the widows are meant to lead a life of severe perseverance which sometimes seems like hell. They are disallowed to eat non-veg foods. But are those rules not applicable here?”
Uncle smiled and answered, “Widows, or not widows, they are all Amma, right? In our village if a man whose wife dies can re-marry and enjoy life then why can’t the widows? Here many poor people struggle to survive a single day and are happy to eat whatever they get. Such rules will just make life worse for them. This day is dedicated to thanking our ancestors. So let’s thank all of them.”
I was really impressed by this. “If these villagers have such upgraded thinking then how come even today in educated society such rituals persist,” I thought.
After lunch we spoke to the elderly ladies, Sandy acting as the interpreter. They blessed both of us, and kissed us several times as if they had known me for such a long time. I was so touched by their simplicity. It never really felt that I was a guest, feeling completely at home among these strangers.
In the evening it was the time for the Devi to return. The huge chariot came amidst the beating of the drums & bellowing of couches. It was mounted by the Mukhia, accompanied by 5 kids below 10 years. They were dressed in traditional silk dhotis & head turbans. The chariot stopped in front of every home. The family members washed the feet of the Mukhia and made offerings of new sarees/dresses which were hung on the chariot. The belief was that through Mukhia the gifts would reach the deity. It was with mixed emotions that the deity was led back to her temple, sadness for the end of the festivities. The ladies were crying, pleading to the goddess to safeguard their village and come back soon next year. There was a hush in the air as the deity was kept back in her temple. Soon, it was all over, and everyone went home.
Back at Sandy’s home we had dinner went early to bed. The next day, we were to take the train back to Kolkata. Almost the whole village came to see us off, many ladies with tears in their eyes. The daughters were going back. As our tempo left, leaving behind the gathering I felt a drop escape my eyes. I shall miss them all too. “Love you and thank you all for giving such an incredible experience in my life.”
Cover image via Shutterstock

Sunday, 22 November 2015

You Are Special: What My Baba Taught Me One Durga Puja

A write-up of mine which got published in Women's web & also I wanted to share it with you all. 
Having your periods on a festival day is considered a horrible fate in many orthodox families. One young girl learns from her dad that it is okay to question rituals that don’t make sense.
Every daughter’s hero is her dad, and so is my baba to me. It is Durga Puja. The flowers are blooming everywhere, bringing the fragrance of the goddess into our lives with the sound of her anklets. The birds are singing agamani sangeet (songs of arrival). They are chirping as if saying, “She has arrived at your doorstep. Open your doors for her”.
These are, I guess, the feelings of every Bengali during this time. The puja starts from the day of Mahalaya withtarpan (offerings and prayers made to the ancestors) until Vijaya Dashami (Dussehra). The buzz of relatives arriving starts from the day before Mahalaya. This is the scene every year. I am writing this as the Durga Puja is at our doorstep and I am set to leave for home; an incident from my past comes to mind, and I feel as though I must share it with you. You could say that it is one of the most important incidents of my life, one that helped me to be what I am today.

It was the year 2005, while I was doing my graduation. The puja had started from the day of Mahalaya and since I was to appear for the boards the next year, I was to offer extra puja to bribe the Goddess help me pass one of the toughest exams!
Now, the puja had started at our home with all the usual rituals. I used to get up at 4 in the morning to pick Shiuli (Night-flowering jasmine/Parijat )flowers from our garden. This was the main task to be done by the children of the family leaving the other tougher jobs for our elders. I still enjoy picking up the flowers from my garden; it is my way of worshipping the ideal of Stree Shakti (Women Power).
As I grew up, my obsession with Durga Puja has even become stronger as if it is the only important thing in my life for which I wait for the whole year. Even now, reaching home a little late during puja brings tears to my eyes. Even today, for me new clothes aren’t as important as being at home during Puja.
That year it was to be more special so I made extra preparations for puja, it being the first year of my graduation. I had planned to take extra precautions to delay my periods – I guess this is the most important precaution during any rituals taking place in an orthodox Hindu family. But in all the excitement, I forgot to take my medications and had my periods on the early morning of maha-astami, the second day of Durga Puja.
It is said to be one of the important days of Durga Puja and you can imagine how I felt when I realized that I had periods on such an important day. Tears rolled down my eyes as if they had been waiting there all the time to fall. It was 3 in the morning. I did all that was to be done and went back to sleep. Next thing I knew, my baba woke me up at 4 to pick flowers for the puja. I picked and filled at least five medium sized baskets for the puja. Finishing the task, I went to the bathroom to take my bath and recalled what had happened earlier. I ran out and informed my mother of the whole thing. Being a woman with modern ideas, she simply said, “Leave it, what’s done is done”. The other ladies who overheard us however, started whispering making me feel as if I had committed a crime for which the punishment could be nothing less than capital punishment.
This made me feel afraid that it might bring some bad luck to my family. The puja had already begun and I ran to inform my baba, whom  I consider to be my best friend, about the whole incident. Running straight to him, I told him what had happened and insisted that he throw the flowers away. Some of the other ladies also insisted on it. But then my choto-ma (aunty) & baba said, “Let it be”.
The other ladies started exchanging looks as if something unworthy had happened. One of them piped up, “Please throw it or it shall be bad for the whole family”. Baba said, “Nothing is bad about it. Durga is a form of Shakti. She is the representation of womanhood. Doesn’t she pass through these special days? Do you take her away from the temple then?”

I was surprised and looked around to see that that others were struck dumb. Only choto-ma added a nod of assurance. But then someone from behind questioned, “Who shall be held responsible if anything worse happens to the family?”
Baba said, “Then you should not do the puja since you don’t have faith in yourself. No one is responsible for anyone else’sKarma. The flowers shall not be thrown away. If you don’t want to do puja with this flowers then you can pick flowers by yourself now or just leave for good.” Everyone kept quiet because as the sun rays fall on it, the shiuli loses its freshness. Hence there were no flowers one could get from the garden. Moreover, the flowers which I had picked had already been used for making garlands and offered by the pandit to the Goddess.
Baba turned towards me now. He embraced me and said, “You are the prasad (fruit) of my sadhana (meditation).You are special. Your offerings can never be thrown away. There is a reason behind everything but then all reasons aren’t right. You need to question society about it. If society keeps dumb, then go with your conscience. You might be alone but then you know you are right. It may take time but slowly others will follow. And if you don’t question the society then its heavy walls of rules will cripple you amidst it. Question and be independent in your thoughts and answer only when you are asked for. Don’t give excuses, give reasons. Then you will survive strong and sound. Now, go and wear your new saree; I am waiting to have a new look at my ma.”
I understood and hugged him, then ran back to get ready.
The flowers which I had picked up were offered in the puja and that year, no ill luck came to our family. Instead my brother passed his boards with around 80% marks. I got promoted to the second year with above 90% and there was other good news too from various family members.
Everything ended well, thus making me learn one important lesson is life, “Question when you aren’t satisfied and give reasons, not excuses.”

Illustration of Durga via Shutterstock


Friday, 6 November 2015


This blog is dedicated to my dearest friend Sandy Singh "Sandhya"
We have passed together almost 10 beautiful years..with sweet & sour memories. You have always there for me. By being on my side whenever needed. Your down to earth personality is the best thing within you & o of-course me too ....
These are some lines which I had long written in one of the books gifted to you by me, "SCIENCE & RELIGION" but which is still with me..hahaback in 03/04/2010...down the memory lane..You have changed a lot now & changed for good...God Bless you dear Stay blessed always
Let Yourself Speak
Let Everyone Value your Truth
My dear friend-
You are an expensive jewel in the jewelry box
But somewhere your long hideousness have made you
Lost your glow
Let the knot be untied
& the box opened
Let the sun-rays fall upon you
& let yourself yourself shine
So that your inner power
Can never be denied by the world.

Monday, 2 November 2015


I am not here to demonstrate.
Neither am I here just like that.
I am here because I am meant to be here-
Never take ME for guaranteed
For I meant to be where I want to be just right to be
Every moment is the perfect & right time for ME to start off
I check myself before I speak
Not because I am afraid but because I respect your position too
And you must know that I owe that respect from you too,
My silence is my secret weapon
For you lose your energy every time you scream-
& when I snap back after a long silence
Your energy is nowhere to fight back
So preserve it in a positive way
& use it when TIME means to say-
Your “NO” shouldn't be the act of negligence from others-
But acceptance of your leadership which matters
Love, & Respect oneself is what that is needed
Because once you are able to do that-
The rest is defeated
Only if you respect yourself you shall be able to deal
With situations which worry you the most & matters that are forced
Then the mirror in front of you shan’t be a haunt
It’s your inner soul’s image which you can trust the most
Damn believe it It’s the truth-
You are beautiful, you are lovely & you are good-

Because you are “ME” & you are Cool.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

NARI-The Woman

Some Lines on NARI-The inevitable women by me
“Can you see the bridal maroon color bindi on her forehead?”

“Oho her nose is pierced with a nathni”.
“Ahh I know it’s the demarcation of her lost virginity.”
“Hey see her bright orange color lipstick.”
“Mm looks like it too cannot hide her mischievous smile.”
 Oh Holy God she is beautiful simply beautiful. Even the veil over her head of her zardosi dark green sari with red border cannot hide the turbulence in her eyes. “Abodho”-Confined within the barriers of social life she has the wish to fly high. She speaks little but smiles a lot as if all the answers of the questions unasked are known to her. She knows all twists and turns of life. The ravished time hasn’t been able to shred any wrinkle on her unbounded inner beauty.  Yes, she is free, free even within the narrow barracks of society. As if she conceives the poetry within herself-

“The soul within my body isn't mine,
Even when I am unhappy or I shine.
Neither wound can sore it,
Nor happiness binds.
For the soul isn't mine.
It’s free from all hollowness,
It’s free from any brine.
It shimmers not,
Even when the darkness arrives.
Nor looses its brightness,
When the sun doesn't shine.
Yes, it’s free; it’s free from all binds.
Because I know the soul within my body
Isn't mine.”
 Every time she is pushed into the dooms of social barricades her free mind escapes through the cracks within the bricks with a more ambitious wish to fly ever higher than before. Even if she is stripped every night her free soul is as pure as ever un-clenched from demons touch. The pure soul cannot be touched. She is the toughest at tedious situations, unbreakable at unbearable calamities. She is the fighter who can soothe the bed letting cripples pursue their vulgarity and at the same time can be a medicine to the most neglected heart in this world. The incomparable lover-NARI.
Deceived by many, slaughtered by thousands, murdered unborn yet important. A barren land would the society would have been without this social conceiver. She sprouts every time in the society plays her role as the carrier of all but every time vanishes among the ruthless waves of negligence. One fine day think my friend if she denies the rule of nature and doesn’t sprout in the society hope the masculine perception is able to play her performance alike her.
NARI- Nature Always Retrieves Itself for the Toughest.