Bangladesh Slideshow

12 October, 2008

Vijaya Dashami

Vijaya Dashami saw me venturing out to visit a few more mandaps.

The Durga idol at Banani Puja Mandap was very fetching. She and her children wore fabulous cork crowns. The design and motifs were very intricate.

There were piles of clothes and other offerings. We were offered fruit and sweets from the Devi's bhog.

Young boys played drums at the Jagannath Hall mandap of Dhaka University. I was tempted to try my hand.

Dhakeshwari Temple was the most vibrant in terms of color and ambience.

The temple ground had a festive atmosphere with various people selling their ware.
This character was a bit scary.
Friend Niall accompanied me on the photo shoot, adding color to the day.
He became an instant celebrity the moment he stepped into Dhakeshwari temple grounds. He was interviewed by ETV and RTV.
The last stop of the day was the Ram Krishna Mission mandap.
We unfortunately did not stay long enough to watch the Visarjan. Maybe next year...

07 October, 2008

Durga Puja

The Goddess Durga is the epitome of beauty, valiance, and courage. Though she holds weapons in each of her ten hands, her face portrays immense beauty and tender protective instincts.

The making of the Durga idol starts a few months before autumn arrives. The people who make the idol are traditionally known as Pals. Creating the idol is a difficult - and now dying - art. The idol is generally made of clay, bamboo, straw and several other raw materials like iron, shola, papier mache, sand etc. Talented and hard-working artisans combine efforts to create this larger than life idol of the Goddess Durga.

In the first stage, the frame of the Durga idol is created with bamboo and straw, while another group of artists prepares the clay mixture and other decorations. This clay mixture is very important. It cannot contain any impure elements. In the second stage, the bamboo and straw frame of the idol is covered in clay. The face, hands, and feet are made separately by the senior artists, and attached to the body later on. A thin coat of clay - ideally taken from the Ganges riverbed - is applied all over the idol to strengthen the joints. The idols of the lion on which the Goddess rides, of the demon Mahisashura, and Durga’s four children - Ganesha, Kartik, Laxmi and Saraswati - are also made using the same process. Traditionally the images were carved out of white Indian cork, a very difficult technique. Today, cork is only used to make the crown and ornaments of the Goddess.
On completion, the idol is painted with earthen colors. Special care is taken while painting the facial expressions and the eyes. The mark of a great artist is reflected by the way he moulds the face and paints the expression of the Goddess. A long flowing wig is added to her head. Finally, the idol is adorned in a traditional red sari and ornaments, as befitting a married Hindu woman. The idols are then brought into the lavishly decorated and brightly lit Puja Mandap.

Ironically perhaps, the Buffalo Demon Mahisashura may have founded the Durga Puja when upon learning of his impending demise at the hands of the Goddess, he, as his last wish, asked the Goddess that he too might be worshipped along with her. The Goddess granted his wish and since then, the demon is always seen at her feet.

The main Puja starts from Shashthi which is the sixth day after the new moon. The Goddess is also believed to arrive at her parents’ home on the same day, accompanied by her children. The idols of the Goddess and her family are placed on a raised platform in a previously erected enclosure. The priest ceremonially establishes life in the clay image and from then on until the tenth day, the image is treated as the Goddess herself. It is obligatory for all worshippers to clean their houses, take a purificatory bath and offer prayers to the Goddess. Many devotees also observe a fast on this day and break the fast after the evening Aarati.

Durga’s four children: Ganesha and Laxmi. Saraswati and Kartik.

Saptami is the first day of Durga Puja. Kola Bou (the Banana Tree bride of Ganesha) is given a pre-dawn bath, known as Mahasnan. This is an ancient ritual of worshiping nine types of plants. Together, they are worshiped as a symbol of the Goddess Durga. The main Saptami Puja follows.

Ashtami is universally accepted as the culminating point of the four day celebrations. Devotees recite mantras and offer flowers to the Goddess Durga (Pushpanjali) and pray for her blessings. Apart from the traditional recitation of hymns and shlokas, Asthami Puja is associated with Kumari Puja, worshipping of the girl child. Traditional rituals of animal sacrifices have been substituted with fruit and vegetable offerings. The ritual of 'Sandhi Puja' marks the ‘Sandhikkhan’, the auspicious juncture between Ashtami and Nabami. 108 Dias (oil lamps) are lighted during 'Sandhi Puja'.

Nabami, the ninth day, is considered doubly auspicious, as the Goddess is believed to have been conceived and sent to earth by the Gods on this day. Nabami Bhog (auspicious food offerings) is offered to Durga and later distributed among the devotees.

The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashmi (the victorious tenth day). It was on this day that the Goddess slew the demon and rid the earth of his evil. It is also the day when she returns back to her home. People visit each other's houses, and special sweets are offered to the guests. On this day, the idol of the Goddess is immersed into a water body, usually a river, signifying her return to her husband Shiva’s home in Mount Kailash.
The immersion (Vasan or Visarjan) of the idols take place amidst music, blowing of conch shells, beating of drums and chanting of mantras. With the immersion, the ten-day festivities come to an end.

This festival celebrates the victory of good over evil. The yearly visit of the Goddess is thought to bring well-being and happiness to the people. The beat of drums, the clash of cymbals, the ringing of bells, dances before the image of Durga, incense wafting in the air, all form an integral part of Durga Puja. Devotees typically wear new clothes on all the four days of Puja. Makeshifts stalls are erected in Puja grounds selling sweets, cork decorative items, religious pictures and puja items, amongst others.

The differences of caste and creed are forgotten and participation in the Puja strengthens community bonding.

05 October, 2008

Durga: the Legend

According to Hindu mythology, Mahisashura, the buffalo demon, had earned the favor of Lord Shiva after long meditation and prayers. Shiva, pleased with the devotion of the demon, blessed him with a boon that he could not be defeated by any God or man. Empowered with the boon, Mahishasura started killing people mercilessly and even drove the Gods out from heaven. With his reckless marauding, this demon posed a constant threat to the existence of the universe.

Indra, the King of gods, and Kumara, Commander of the celestial armies could not stop Mahisashura. In despair, the Gods called on Vishnu to deliver them from this demon. Vishnu confronted Mahisashura first as Narasimha the man lion and then as Varaha, the boar, but each time he faced defeat. Shiva, the supreme ascetic, was disturbed by the violence and glared at Mahisashura with his third eye, unleashing the fire of doom. However, even the power of Shiva's third eye - capable of destroying the three worlds - could not arrest Mahisashura's march.

At this time, a stream of lightning dazzled forth from the mouth of Brahma, in the form of the goddess Brahmi. She rode a swan and held books of wisdom in her hands. Simultaneously, the essence of the other Gods emerged taking female forms. From Indra arose Indrani, bearing a thunderbolt and riding an elephant. From Kumara rose Kumari holding a lance and riding a peacock. From Vishnu rose Vaishanavi on an eagle with a disc whirling on her finger. From Varaha came the sharp-tusked sow Varahi. From Shiva arose Shivani, riding a bull and bearing a trident. These Goddesses rose to the sky and merged with each other in a flash of blinding light. The sounds of conchs shells, drums and bells filled the air. With bated breath, the Gods watched the light. From this heavenly light emerged a beautiful Goddess, Durga - the inaccessible one. Then all the Gods bestowed their special weapons upon Durga. Shiva gave his trident, Vishnu his disc and mace, Indra his thunderbolt, Kurmara his lance, Brahma his bow.

Thus armed, Durga mounted a lion and prepared for battle. A great battle commenced. Mountains shook, oceans trembled, clouds scattered across the sky, as Mahisashura demon attacked Durga. He rushed her using all his wiles, at one time taking the form of a buffalo, sometimes as a lion, sometimes as an elephant. The Goddess broke the buffalo's horns with her mace, sheared the lion's mane with her lance, and cut off the elephant's trunk with her sword. She hurled weapon after weapon at the buffalo demon, but each time he managed to rise undefeated. Realizing that her heavenly weapons had no effect at all on Mahisashura, Durga threw them aside, dismounted from her lion and sprang upon Mahisashura's back. With her soft feet she kicked his head. The demon, immune to the weapons of all the Gods, fell senseless at the touch of Durga's feet. Durga then raised her trident and plunged it into the buffalo demon’s heart - conquering the unconquerable.

(Photo courtesy:

Once a year, in the autumnal month of Ashwin, Durga - the Goddess of Deliverance - comes home to her parents, together with her four children, Ganesha (the God of wealth), Laxmi (the Goddess of prosperity), Kartik (the God of beauty) and Saraswati (the Goddess of knowledge). Durga comes to earth on the seventh day after the autumn new moon. She is welcomed and honored as a family would welcome its married daughter, and love and affection bestowed upon her. Unfortunately, this visit lasts only three days, and on the fourth day Durga starts on her journey back to her husband Shiva's abode in the mountain kingdom of Kailash.

The occasion of Durga Puja commences with Mahalaya - the day when the fierce battle between the Goddess and demon Mahisashura ensued. The rituals consist of reciting shlokas (couplets) from Chandi (also known as Chandi Path) and evoking the powers of the Goddess Durga. The Durga idol is depicted as a resplendent ten-armed golden figure standing on a lion's back, each of her ten arms bearing a particular weapon, as she triumphs over the demon Mahisashura.

Living in a Festive Land

It is said that we Bengalis celebrate 13 festivals in a calendar year. It’s just not true, you know! I just don’t know why people say such things about us! We Bengalis of Bangladesh celebrate more than just 13!!!

In this secular country, where Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and ethnic minorities live side by side, where both religious and cultural events are celebrated with great fanfare, and where Western culture has slowly permeated Eastern traditions, life is a nonstop celebration of festivals.

No sooner is Eid-ul Fitr over, the drums and conch shells start heralding the arrival of the Hindu Goddess Durga. Soon after, there will be Thanksgiving, and then it will be time for Eid-ul-Azha, when Muslims will sacrifice animals in the name of Allah. The end of the year will bring Christmas. And there will be New Year, the month-long Book Fair, the First of Spring, Valentine’s Day, Language Martyr’s Day, Independence Day, Bengali New Year… And you thought I was exaggerating? Let me list a few more: Muharram, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, May Day, Budhdha Purnima, Shab-e-Barat, Janmashtami, Victory Day. We have 21 public holidays annually. Do I detect a wee tinge of envy in your eyes? And are you wondering when we find the time to actually do some work?

But wait, I haven’t finished yet. Then there are cultural events and other minor religious events we celebrate. Social customs like birth, naming ceremony, marriage, and death too have a distinct Bangladeshi flavor with every ethnic and religious group having their own unique way to mark these occasions.

I won’t claim that Bangladesh is free from religious or secular tension. I won’t tell you that religious extremism does not exist here. But I will say that things are perhaps not so bad as is portrayed in the media, where isolated events are sometimes blown all out of proportion, and gives a very wrong impression of the country and countrymen. Allow me to draw your attention to the fact that the province of Bengal has traditionally been a melting pot of different religions, and that despite different beliefs, people have always (well, almost always) coexisted peacefully in this country. Social and cultural events bring people together irrespective of cast, creed or religion, and religious events provide an opportunity to all to experience unique rites and customs, not to mention food. Our festivals are celebrations of life, culture, customs and traditions. They are a time of unity, reunion and rejuvenation, of the rebirth of our patriotism and piety, and last but not the least, time to reaffirm vows of love, charity and compassion.

Over the remainder of this week, I intend to write about the biggest celebration of the Hindu Community in Bangladesh - the Durga Puja. Consisting of a series of complex rituals, this five day-long celebration of Goddess Durga's homecoming is close to every Bengali's heart. Seen as the Mother of the Universe, Durga represents the infinite power of the universe and is a symbol of female dynamism. The puja rituals reaffirm the faith of mankind in God and in the victory of good over evil.

03 October, 2008

Eid ul Fitr

Eid Mubarak, Dear Readers.

Eid-ul-Fitr derives its name from the word Fitr - charity which is given at the end of Ramadan by all able Muslims. The main purpose of the Fitr is to provide those who fasted with the means of making up for their errors during the month of fasting. The Fitr also provides the poor with a means with which they can celebrate Eid along with the rest of the community. The Fitr amount is the equivalent of one Saa` (two handfuls) of food-grain and the equivalent currency amount is decided by the government according to market prices. Each able Muslim is required to calculate how much charity is due from himself and his dependents and go into the community in order to find those who deserve such charity. Thus, Fitr plays a very important role in community bonding. Fitr becomes due upon sighting of the Shaw'wal moon and should be paid before Eid prayers.

As with our other festivals, Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations offer us an excellent opportunity to reaffirm and nurture our attachment to our ancestral values and cultural heritage, and to the traditions that add depth and splendour to our lives.

The day begins with Eid prayers at mosques. After the devotees return home, we visit family, friends and neighbors, and sweets are served at every house. Families usually get together for lunch, the main Eid meal. The afternoon and evening bring more visits. Youngsters hang out with friends at places such as Banani Road 11, Mirpur Road and Sat Masjid Road in Dhanmondi, KFC and Pizza Hut in Gulshan, and Bailey Road and Dhaka University areas. Not being that 'cool' but more important, not belonging to that age group, the Blogging Girl's Eid was spent mostly at home.

The Eid holidays saw various kinds of entertainment. A street band played the famous Nazrul Eid song.

Then came the snake charmer.

Candy of course had never seen a snake before, and she was all agog. She also barked her head off at these strange slithering creatures. Too bad they could not hear her.

This was the first Eid at our house for us (previous ones had been spent either with the in-laws or my parents). Our little home dressed up for the big occasion.

One veranda had a cozy sitting arrangement. Our little girl liked it very much, and sat there all morning.

The Blogging Girl's unfinished craft project - the sea shell lamp base - was cleverly displayed. The shade and candles were color coordinated with the orchids. Smart, eh?

There were other small bright touches. Jewel colored blown glass fish. Antique china that belonged to my paternal Grandmother.

There was a memorial corner.

Potted plants added soothing touches of greenery around the house.

Candy had a sparkly collar to wear, and it jingled as she ran around. She was the star of the day and she revelled in the attention. Oh, she was so happy!

We served mouthwatering sweet dishes of Carrot Halwa, Mitha Tukda and Shemai. Thank God nobody was counting calories!

We also prepared different kinds of meat dishes. There was Mutton with Potato. Roast Chicken. Handi Kabab. Beef Bhuna. The meat was served to the accompaniment of plain pulao and a green salad.

Family and friends came a-visiting.

The house, of necessity, had a no-dog zone, and Candy was downcast at not having entry to that area while the guests were visiting. She kept a watchful eye on these suspicious people who did not want to get close to her.

It was indeed a happy time.
We also thought of family and friends who live far away or have passed away. When my arms can’t reach people close to my heart, I always hug them with my prayers.
May Allah’s peace be with you all.