Friday, January 27, 2012

Saraswati Puja: the Goddess and the memories

The Goddess of Knowledge, Devi Saraswati, is back to bless us again this year. The student community, irrespective of their devotion to studies, will spend the day revering the Goddess and seeking her divine blessings. For the entire day, our lovely town Silchar will wear a festive and relaxed look, with Puja pandals adorning almost every nook and corner.

Devi Saraswati, a painting by Raja Ravi Verma (coutesy: Wikipedia)
For unfortunate migrants like me, who have left the comfort of our great town for a place, where the Goddess is not quite revered the same way, the occasion evokes great nostalgia. Apart from the religious fervour, Saraswati Puja was also an occasion to hop around all the college and school campuses of the town, not restricted by any age or gender related bias.

To start with, we would feel extremely relieved by placing all our books on the feet of the Goddess to seek her blessings. This would always be a magical feeling, because at least for one whole day, our parents would not be able to hound us with sermons to spend more hours at the study table!

As we grew up and entered college, the emotions behind placing the books on the feet of the Devi became more genuine. After all, in the calendar of Pujas that take place all through the year, the Saraswati Puja is extremely strategically timed during January – February, with annual exams following within a fortnight or a month. This is the when we would invariably panic due to inadequate preparation and therefore the prayers to the Devi would come out straight from the heart.

In a conservative small town like Silchar, opportunities to mingle with the fairer gender were always very limited. However, on this auspicious day, all such barriers would be broken. For the students of the illustrious GC College, this was the occasion when the boys could enter the girls hostel premises and vice versa.

The sight of the beautiful damsels dressed in white sarees with red borders was an added attraction, for which, the boys anxiously waited the whole year. Yet, incidents of eve teasing or misbehaviour would be extremely rare. In many ways, this used to be our version of the Valentine’s Day.

The other attractions of this great day would be the tasty bhog prasad served after the Puja and the cultural programmes in the evening. For some of us, who used to play a part in organizing the Puja, the thrill of decorating the pandals the day before and bringing the idol were enormously gratifying.

Interestingly, the Saraswati Puja, was never a Hindu festival for anyone of us. Students from all backgrounds irrespective of caste, creed or religion would wholeheartedly participate to make it a success. I especially remember my friend Firdaus, who was one of main organizers of the College Puja. On the day of the Puja, he would sit right next to the priest and help him out with the samagri. Nobody ever had any problem with this practice which continued for a good three years.

Its been years since those wonderful days, but the memories refuse to fade. I just hope that the child like innocence with which we celebrated Saraswati Puja exists even today. Let us pray that, like many other aspects of our daily life, this wonderful occasion also does not degenerate into anything too material and pompous.

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Silchar through the Lense