Sunday, October 05, 2008

This Puja, pray to fight evil

The Durga Puja celebrations that mean so much to Bengalis have begun. To the cosmopolitan and the agnostic, the Goddess’ homecoming is just an occasion to blend street festivities with gluttony. But to those less inclined to paint expressions of faith in secular colours, Durga Puja denotes the worship of shakti and the triumph of good over evil.

Unlike the Goddess Kali, another manifestation of shakti, with whom devotees have an intensely personal relationship, the ethos of the five-day invocation of Durga is congregational. Till the early-20th century, family pujas were the norm; today, community worship funded by small donations and corporate sponsorship are all pervasive. True, many pujas have turned unappetisingly bling. But these distortions shouldn’t detract from the underlying theme of the festival: the bonding of family, community, society and nation in a common reaffirmation of dharma. The symbolic destruction of Ravana on Dussehra in northern India underscores the same message.

This year’s celebrations, tragically, are likely to be muted. Whether we admit it or not, silent fear has gripped urban India. With one serial blast following another, there is concern that someone may end up at the wrong place at the wrong time - with deadly consequences. As yet there is no widespread alarm but many families all over India have decided to keep their outings during the festive season to a bare minimum. There are no geographical limits set by the bombers. The blasts could happen anywhere because the terrorists have one clear objective: to create maximum panic.

For more than a year, India has faced terror with the proverbial stiff upper lip. There have been no sectarian recriminations and even the provocative emails of the Indian Mujahideen have been met by a combination of resilience and black humour. A dandy union home minister has become the butt of jokes, not because we seriously believe that the government can provide foolproof security, but because lampooning an incompetent politician is the least disagreeable alternative to doing nothing.

Yet, something has changed over the months. TV channels have quietly ceased to invoke the celebrity-led “spirit” of civic resilience that greeted, say, the July 11, 2006, bombings in Mumbai. After the Ahmedabad blasts on July 26 this year, a cabinet minister floated the disgusting theory that the bombings were state-sponsored. When the blasts recurred in Delhi on September 13, he retreated behind pop sociology, trying to identify the “root cause” of terrorism.

Over the weeks, the contrived piousness of the liberals has been overshadowed by growing impatience with those who are seen to be soft on terror. The outpouring of grief at the death of Delhi police inspector M C Sharma signified a loud public affirmation of robust counter-terrorism - even if it involves emulating Dirty Harry. There were no spirited interventions in support of Jamia Millia Islamia’s vice chancellor Mushirul Hasan when he succumbed to sectional pressure and threw his institutional weight behind two alleged student-terrorists - one enrolled in a course on Human Rights! And there was a lot of grimacing after some clerics and politicians went over the top, equated counter-terrorism with a witch-hunt of educated Muslims and swore electoral vengeance.

When fear and anger combine, the signs are ominous. Exasperated by the excesses of Mahishashura - who, too, had a form of divine blessing - the Gods joined hands to create a Durga and endowed her with the deadliest weapons from their arsenal. The personification of shakti was then entrusted with saving the three worlds from the terrible demon. The awesome Durga prevailed over evil and facilitated the return of decency. Later, Lord Ram invoked Durga out of season to bless his campaign against Ravana. This week’s puja follows Ram’s calendar of war.

This Durga Puja will be less celebratory. Yet, the prayers for collective strength, leadership and wisdom to defeat the newest manifestation of evil must be even more compelling.
Swapan Dasgupta

1 comment:

prakharhindutva said...

Thanks for ur comments on my blog. What I think that the real cause of all this fear, terror and mass killings is Islam... And we must come do something in that direction... Keep visiting