The focus in any sphere, sometimes, needs to be drawn towards the very germinating stage of its initiation which when exposed to the repercussions of distortion, suffers certain unintended yet malevolent re-fabrication. While the genesis remains untraced, the newly manufactured newness absorbs the limelight as it gets dramatically balanced and designed by the contemporary scenario to suit to its needs accordingly. We are left basking in the versions of some versioned truth.
Deities of the Hindu pantheon are prisms of our social appendage. They have evolved over the ages imbibing endemic features from each of the communities who patronize them. Durga puja, is one such festival that has witnessed the quiet conversion of rituals formed with discipline, devotion and religious faith in textual doctrines into a spectacle of the gaudy celebration of a hyperbolic belief.
The focus now has shifted to the image, the “pandal”, the decoration, illumination and shadowy consumables to overwhelm the public. Another hermeneutical key might be found in the description of Durga from the famed Devi Mahatmya stories, where she is said to bestow both “bhakti" (earthly enjoyment) and “mukti” (liberation).
However, one reconciles the disjuncture between “sacred” and “secular” in the puja pandals. The craving for coveted awards, fuels artificially stimulated fantasies that are alienated from the concrete, real selves. With consumption becoming a compulsive irrational aim, today, one loves the newness of the things procured, not the thing itself.
Mother worship in India necessarily developed through a synthesis of the pre Aryan and the Aryan. The Devi-sukta in the Rig Veda is a reminder of the prevalence of mother worship. Destruction stands in a binary relation with creation, and the mother goddess is the fierce goddess Chandi, destroying evil and hence a fortress in the shape of Durga. It is the Markandeya Puranas that provides the glorification of the Goddess (Devi Mahamaya) in the form of Durga or Chandi, protecting her devotees from all troubles (Durgatinashini).
The creative principle the Shakti can also be considered as Mahamaya- the great principle of illusion which makes the world go on. However, this Shakti is also manifested in the form of Mahakali that prevails in Bengal since the eighteenth century.
Durga previously was described as a fearless virgin, hunting and living in mountains, craggy terrains, and caves associated “primarily as a war goddess who is fond of battles and destroys demons and is endowed with a variety of weapons … and protects her devotees.”
As a non-Vedic deity, she was given space for the first time in a Brahminical text and her assimilation is completed in the Devimahatmya, which forms a part of the larger Markandeya Purana, possibly composed in the sixteenth century. The Devimahatmya retains most of Durga’s non-Vedic features in recognizable form but “with the help of myths and epithets… subtly connected her with a Sanskritic tradition”. As the manifestation of Shakti, the goddess appears in her most enduring form in this particular text, and the Bengal Puranas , as later creations, took this as their model of construction. Thus, one can safely surmise that the model of the goddess that the Puranas in Bengal began with was already suffused by extremely diverse traditions- some of them from highly questionable origins as far as the Brahminical legacy was concerned.
The puja after the 19th century fused together performance, fantasy and aspirations in a seemingly unending theater of dramatic spectacle. The transient, unruly desolation of this new urbanity perhaps catalyzed the further transformation of Durga. The image of the benevolent mother ceaselessly coming home to her troubled children culturally translated the angst of a new generation of migrants into a language of civic in-habitation. With the puja reshaping itself into a community festival, the public worship lent itself more to amusement than a religious obligation.
The ‘greed’ to gain and maximize profits and reproduction of the endless ‘desire’ to consume has broadly changed the nature of religion which was traditionally supposed to be in a ‘sacred’ sphere of life. It not only enters into the field of commercialization and commodification of gods but also the belief systems, festivities and other aspects of the same. The secular and technological developments do not eliminate the need for religion rather changes its form and nature to a great extent reinforcing the rules of the market into it. The religion becomes part of a society rather than the overarching ‘sacred canopy’—the sacred thrives outside the auspices of the traditional religion.