The Mahakali of Andheri (E), Mumbai

The Mahakali of Andheri (E), Mumbai

The Ganesh Chathurthi @ Mumbai and Durga Puja @ Kolkata have seen a regular upgrade in the Puja fervor and experience but the sanctity and the sense of tradition associated with the occasions have been well preserved. Getting to Kolkata during this grand occasion is still a dream waiting to be fulfilled. In the meanwhile there was a wonderful opportunity to experience the joy of another “Community festival” here in Mumbai. The Mahakali Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samiti , a charitable trust religiously organizes the annual durga puja celebrations in the Apartment/high rise neighborhood of Poonam Nagar in Andheri (E), north of the island city. The celebrations are held in a spacious public park, one among the many in the area, thanks largely to the legislator Shri Ravindra Waikar.

Durga Puja invite and schedule of events starting from Mahalaya
The beautifully done invite for the Durga puja festival

When asked about the significance of the tradition, one of the organizers said, “Once a year, in the autumnal month of Ashvin, Durga visits her parents with her four children, Ganesh, Laxmi, Kartik and Saraswati, and enjoys all the love and affection of home for five long days”. It just felt like my mom bundling us in to a train compartment for our holidays.

Kumortuli, a potter’s district in Kolkata is the place which supplies the idols for Puja pandals in India and now around the world. Orders for the images are placed on the Rath Yatra Day. A layer of rich Ganga mud is moulded onto the frame of clay, bamboo and paddy husks, and the final form is dried, polished, painted and dressed. It is said that the most important part is the painting of the third eye and at this point, the artisan is said to go in to a trance and in one stroke of the paint brush completes the third eye. The platform of the image along with themed backdrops enclosed inside a huge decorative tent are also constructed.

The Celebrations

Mahalaya is the day of invocation, and six days later the grand festival begins with Bengal and all mandals across India and the world reverberate with the sound of conch shells, Rhythms of Dhaaks and the chanting of hymns, prayers and offering of flowers. The Mahakali Mandal had invited a troupe of traditional drummers to lend a touch of Bengal to the occasion.

The image of Durga with the demon at her feet has become the symbol of Bengal. It is on the sixth day or Mahashasthi that Durga is decorated with the various weapons that she has received from the different gods to fight the buffalo demon, Mahishasur. Having come to know this, Mahishasur pleaded that he too be worshipped along with her and this was readily agreed to by the goddess.

Visiting the Pandal on the 8th day or Ashtami is said to be a special one for this is the day the demon was killed by the goddess and hence an important day in the festival calendar.

A closer look at the idols of Durga, Ganesh, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartikeya
Intricate work done on the idols mesmerizes you

The Dhunuchi dance is a mesmerizing one where devotees move to music along with a pot of burning coal on which coconut husk and incense are placed. This follows the aarthi to the goddess and is an important part of an engrossing sequence of events.

A ‘Sandhi Puja’ is held during the transition from Ashtami in to Navami. This occasion is marked by lighting of 108 lamps accompanied by drumbeats to the call of the conch. After a festive treat to the goddess on Navami, the farewell of the goddess happens on the 10th day which is Bijoya. The occasion is a joyous one and also a painful one where the separation draws out tears. The ladies of the mandal celebrate the 10th day with vermillion and sweets. The immersion in Bombay happens in the seashore and creeks surrounding the island city.

The Pandal and Bhog

The Pandal at Mahakali drew out all the hidden bengali culinary artists. It is not surprising to find both vegetarian and Non-vegetarian delicacies being marketed. A lot of live counters are set up to serve traditional kolkata rolls, Fish and mutton chops and other dishes. Vegetarians prefer to hangout at the sweet counters and find that they have over indulged. The counters at Mahakali also threw up varieties like chowmein.

food counters serving rolls, chops, sweets and other bengali delicacies and not to forget the chowmein
The buzzing food counters at the pandal

Apart from the counters, the bhog served at the mandal is well and truly a delectable feast and the entire darshan crowd hung out patiently amidst all the heat to grab a plate of this puja flagship item. The traditional bhog consists of Khichuri (Rice and gram gruel), Cauli flower (phoolgobi) and other mixed vegetable curry, A tangy tomato chutney and followed by a lip smacking payesh (sweet dish). Since we were also served a rossogolla, a bite of rossogolla along with the payesh was pure bliss. The volunteers serving bhog did an admirable job of keeping the crowds’ spirits high and ensuring an orderly conduct. People from all walks of life strolled in to the pandal to partake of the bhog.

Bhog queue and the Bhog plate consisting of Khichuri, Chutney, Subzi and Payesh with a Rossogolla
The Bhog at Mahakali

This was enough to underline the fact, “all the world is one community”.

A Homestay and Navratri at Baroda…..

A Homestay and Navratri at Baroda…..

What drew me last to Baroda for a pro-active trip – my better half of course! Having got a number of guided tours of this cultural hub of Gujarat, a Home Stay and Navratri weekend was not to be missed. My host, befriended during our Kailash Manasarovar Yatra threw his doors open for me to experience the Hospitality and the festival.

Baroda is a perfect getaway during the Navratri festival and is easily accessible from Mumbai (5 hours) or Ahmedabad (1 hour). For those Mumbaikars who crave for authentic Ras Garba, Baroda offers the best opportunity to savor one. A morning Shatabdi express from Mumbai gets you to Baroda in time for a fabulous lunch; What else, a Gujarati Thali of course! Families with businesses are continually buzzing with activity and my host and his parents were on their toes fulfilling customer orders, getting on with a home renovation activity, negotiating with a home appliance supplier and even a conference to attend. But, not for a moment did their attention swerve from serving me a wonderful meal and ensuring my comfort. They made it all seem pretty effortless. The lunch was simple but the accompaniments and embellishments made sure that there was enough color on the plate. A lunch such as this does send you to the nearest couch. I was definitely drawn to one and did manage to catch a few winks before i was bundled away to my hosts’ offices. It was a great opportunity to understand their business area and how employees were treated as family, customers were heard out patiently and served with due care. The Rangbhoomi concept of business was in action – viewing business as an opportunity to provide livelihood and Money (lakshmi) walking in wherever there is good customer focus and orientation. Learning Maximized!

Simple and Tasty Home Food served by my Host
Simple and Tasty Home Food served by my Host

Now, back to the Garba hop! Nothing starts before 930 PM in the evening, so one has close to 7 – 8 hours to prepare (incase you are getting in to the ring) or just wander around in this city. According to a pre-travel briefing by my better half The United Way Garba and the Fine Arts Garba were the ones to visit as they attracted maximum participants and an equal if not less, number of visitors. For the United way Garba, the passes i understand were sold out atleast a couple of months in advance. We still tried but were promised some intelligent perching at the Fine arts Garba, MSU. Navratri time is a time for Takeaway dinners as families head to Garba venues in droves, some in cars but many in two-wheelers. The Garba at Fine arts is organised by the students (alumni and current) with enthusiastic participation by the faculty. Rhythm players themselves sing Garbas while playing the instruments. This rare style of Grab is in place for the past three decades. The name given to this category of Garba is Pracheen Garba, tracing its origins back to before Poet Narmad, a Gujarati Poet – Scholar from the 19th Century. Music emanates only from traditional instruments like dholak, Nasik dhol, drumset, kansi-joda, ghugharis, conch (shankh), and temple bells. All this without a single microphone. Fusion in the rawest form – Drum and Kansi-Joda add beauty to the Garba songs. We got a ringside view of the performance, thanks to a few friends of my host. The energy levels of the students encircling the performing instrumentalists and vocalists were driven to dizzying levels. The circle moved to music in a rapid pace and one had to either get in or just stay out. Unmindful of the sultry weather and pouring sweat, the performers were themselves transported and made sure they took the audience along with them. The dresses were traditional with no footwear, as a mark of respect to the goddess. The music reaches a crescendo before dying down in respect to the Goddess and of course, the rules. Once the dance dies down, the stomachs start rumbling and the crowds head out in search of “any” place that serves snacks, food, tea, coffee, soda etc., Coffee shops we visited were buzzing till 2 AM.

New Garbas in town but the classics endure!
New Garbas in town but the classics endure!

Navratri culminates with Dussehra on the 10th day. While many fast, an equal number or more feast. The sweet shops in the city were on an overdrive, preparing the savory Fafda and stacking them till they hit the ceiling of their shops. Deep fried and served with a Raw papaya chutney, it is nice to watch during preparation but tough to digest. The sweet cousin, Jalebi when combined with Fafda are a deadly duo and it ensures that you are within your limits.

Sunday morning Nasto plus Dussehra preparations
Sunday morning Nasto plus Dussehra preparations

Baroda can get oppressively hot during summers but families have their traditional means of keeping their heads, their guests’ heads and the animals’, cool. Cement tanks are very thoughtfully placed outside homes, filled with cool water to provide stray cattle, horses and dogs with a sip. Here, in Baroda hospitality is all encompassing.

Busy Junction, Cement water tanks for animals, Train journey, Eating out and crowds heading out of Garba
Sights of the Journey – Busy, relaxing, journeying, enjoying and chilling out

Now for some dance practice. Targeting to get in to the ring next year.

Bolo Shri Ambe Mata ki! Jai!