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RUMA CHAKRAVARTI.

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 8/10/2014 |



    MY GRANDMOTHER’S GODS


I was suddenly reminded today of something my Didima used to have on her shelves where her little thakurs or idols were kept. Possibly this might strike a chord with some of you. MyThakurma had her own Pujor ghor or prayer room. My Didima was not religious or self absorbed enough to devote a whole room to inanimate idols, with six children and twelve grandchildren who regularly stayed over during school holidays.

For her two shelves were enough. They were at a corner of the dining room. She spent an hour each morning and each evening in front of them. There was red cloth laid on the shelves. On one shelf was all the accoutrement of the rituals themselves, her Gita, her Nitya Karma Paddhoti, her Lokkhir Panchali and some other books we never asked her the names of. There were jars of cowrie shells, shiny coins, ghee, cotton wicks and caste threads in boxes, match boxes and dhoop or incense sticks  and the thin red smeared conch bangles one saw only at temples and on the wrists of new brides. There was a large aluminium container we had our eye on a lot, although we were of a god fearing age and never really thought of opening it and stealing the treasured batashas. Another smaller one held little white sugary Nakurdana. We knew that being present during her hour in front of the gods would ensure the granting of a batasha or two. 

On the bottom shelf were the gods. There was a large Lakshmi with a face that I always thought was the most beautiful Lokkhi I had ever seen. I still look for that face after 30 years! She was a framed print. The frame had a smudge of red sindoor on the top, where it had been applied for years; Lokkhi is after all a married woman. Around her were arrayed what I am sure are the essentials of most Bangali thakur ashans; a Gopal on a throne, his typical baby form where he eats some sweet as he crawls along, dressed in clothes made by my didima. There was a picture of Ramakrishna and his wife Sarada. There was a fierce looking Kali, all flowing hair and lolling tongue. Didu having been a teacher all her life, there was always a little Saraswati. There were some others I cannot remember now. The one that I was particularly fond of was a brass Nandi. He is the bull that is the vahana or carrier ofShiva. This one was shown standing and was given to my grandfather by his family. It had belonged to his father. This would make it over 100 years old at that stage. I loved the little animal, with his rather pompous stance and humped back. He was placed facing inwards as my Didima said he liked looking at Shiva; I assume he was looking at the one lying at Kali’s feet in the framed print.

Today while surfing the net, as I occasionally do, I saw a little Nandi just like him. This made me read up a bit about him once again. Nandi was not always just a bull. He had once beenNandikeswara, the lord of happiness or Anand. He was adept in music and dance as well. He then became the vahan for Shiva, Nandi the bull represents the strength and virility of his master. Even during the times of the Indus Valley civilization they made seals of a bull, which may well have been precursor to today’s Nandi. Women wanting children can pray to Nandi. It seems rather convenient that one prays to the master for a husband and to the vahan for children, a kind of a buy-one/get-one free package from the Puranic days. But I guess incentives always sweeten the deal, especially when one is trying to promote a large non milkable bovine and a man who seems to be under the influence of various recreational herbal products a lot of the time.

I once asked her whether she had a great deal of faith in the gods on her shelves. She looked away for a while and said, 'No, the routine helps to pass the time.' She would have loved hearing about the God particle. I can hear her voice in my head saying it has nothing to do with God, it is just everywhere! 





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