Deoghar Diaries: Panchami and Shasthi

Our family has an annual ritual – during the Durga Pujas, the whole family comes down to Deoghar, a “pilgrims’ city” in the state of Jharkhand – to escape from the frenzy of the hustle and bustle of city life. The journey is in itself great fun, since the whole of the Chatterjee clan comes down in the same train. This was the first time I missed out on the exodus since I came down by myself from Delhi.

I met a few interesting people on the train, one of them being Srinibas Lenka, a lawyer who had suddenly quit his day job one fine day and decided to pursue his hobby of painting as a profession. I looked at his art, and though I could not make much of his abstract landscapes apart from an intriguing use of colors, I was left in awe of a person who dared to follow his dream.

Having arrived a day before the start of the main pujas, I had some time to myself, and of course, the first thing that I did was to head over to see the idol of the Goddess and her family!

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The puja mandap  was decked with glowing lights and though my weak camera could not do justice to the embellishments, I still chose to put the image up because this is the place where we are going to spend long hours in the next few days.

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The serenity, the peace and quiet, and above all, the feeling of joy and stillness within that I get every time I visit the ashram is beyond compare. In so many ways this is like homecoming for me!

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Soon after evening set in, the worshipping rituals started and eventually culminated in a very enchanting eulogy of the Lord, which is known as the aarti in Hindi. I was so entranced by the rhythmic beating of the drums and the music and the actions of the priest doing the aarti I totally forgot to click any pictures. By the time I remembered, he was already into the last step of the process – fanning the Goddess using a fan made from the tail-tuft fur of the yak. It is known as a chamor.

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This was further followed by incantations and hymns in Sanskrit, which has always enchanted me with the rhyme and meter. The little meanings I could glean off of the hymns (I have not learnt Sanskrit officially but I can follow it a bit since it has some similarities with Bangla and Hindi, which are actually derived from a corrupted form of Sanskrit).

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One of the important temples in the city, in fact, the major temple in Deoghar is that of Shiv-ji. It is a nationally famous temple, known a Baidyanath Dham. I went there today morning.

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I was expecting that since the throngs of pilgrims were yet to descend on Deoghar, the famed temple would be sparsely attended. But I could not have been any more wrong!

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The Indian scriptures state that every God and Goddess has an animal at their beck and call and these animals are known as their vahanas, which literally means carriers. However, I think there are some deeply veiled social commentaries on this issue than just the super-simplistic idea that these animals are responsible. More on religion-based arguments later… now is the time to post a visual explanation as well. Anyways, Lord Shiva, the main deity of this temple has an ox as his vahana, so it was little wonder that the entire temple was a haven for the benign and slow animal.

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Add these to the crowds and the noises and the pandas (they are the priests who conduct the worshipping process for the visitors in exchange of often nominal fees), and you have a busy temple on your hands.

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The temple is basically a one-room place where the idol of Lord Shia is placed. The peak of the temple is marked by a golden pot.

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The custodian of the Lord sits and dispenses blessings in his name all day long.

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And religion, of course, is a serious business here. It can be quite the money-spinner, and some industrious entrepreneurs do not pass up the easy buck.

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I was decked up in traditional Bengali dress, called the dhoti ad punjabi, a combination which I shall be donning quite often in the week to come. I think I look rather spiffy in such traditional wear!

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As we walked out of the temple after a fulfilling but somewhat strenuous outing, one could not help but feel the stirring of a strange kind of joy and peace within. Faith may be logically difficult to define or support, but sometimes, it makes life easier…

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Oh, and I nearly forgot to tell you about the customary line of beggars sitting in front of the gates of the temple, like almost every other large temple in India, who beg, plead, implore, and more often than not, threaten us with dire consequences for not parting with our change!

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