"We can transform this world and make it heaven"
The outward zest and fervor usually witnessed during Durga Puja by Bengalis in particular were largely dampened by Covid 19 pandemic this year, though the innate spirit did not die out and remained concealed within. Durga Puja is more than a mere religious festival for Bengalis irrespective of religion they have embraced, their caste or creed. To Bengalis the festival symbolizes home-coming of the Supreme Mother from Her in-law’s abode after a year-long sojourn. In no other religion the Providence is conceived and worshipped as the Universal Mother and endeared as the Daughter. This mystic interpretation of Durga Puja is unique which could be the outcome of ‘tantric’ traditions prevalent in this part of India in the past. Be that as it may, festivities centering round Durga Pooja transcend all artificial man-made divides and discord imposed on the society from time to time. The worship of the Divine Mother infuses a unifying force binding and bonding people plugging cleavages within the society at least for the time being. Durga Puja should not be construed as a mere religious ritual. In the Hindu pantheon worship of idols representing deities is essentially symbolic. Nevertheless, devotees want a concrete mythical image of the deity before them to give vent to their devotional feel unlike other institutional religions.
When a society is riddled with factions, life gets discomfiting, uneasy and does not seem worth-living for. Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the famed French philosopher, remarked that our life in this world is hellish because of our persistent persuasion to alienate others. We try to antagonize people who differ with us in outlook and perceptions about different facets of life often with vengeance. Social, political and racial rifts and discord are of man’s own making.
Social divides are created as a result of a sort of repressive approach from which stemmed the idea of retribution and reward after death—the concept of heaven and hell. Heaven is the realm of eternal bliss for the righteous while hell is the realm of torment for sinners. Modern theologians are of the view that the concept of heaven and hell should not be interpreted literally in a physical sense. Heaven should be construed as a kind of spiritual awareness of satisfaction. Hell is the feel of pangs of conscience or moral torment. People with positive values are not happy with what has been happening around and are in agreement with what Sartre felt.
Decades back when I was in my teens I read a poem in my text book written by a Muslim poet. The poem conveyed a message. The poet says that heaven and hell are not far away distant places as we think they are—places of imagination with contrasting environs. Heaven and hell exist in this world itself within us. Gods and demons are present within us distinguished by the values we nurture. Religious festivals such as Durga Puja efface the imposed distinctions and make the environment blissfully different.