Exhausting rituals.

Amidst a thick veil of burning incense and deafening percussion beats, Mukul, the head priest of the Matri Mandir Kali Bari down in Safdurjung Enclave – a posh locality in South Delhi – participates in a ritual that can easily trace its roots back to India’s obscure ancient past.

Two days before crowds of devotees congregated to join in worship, Mukul assisted by younger priests started reciting complicated verses of slokas and mantras to venerate the warrior goddess in her Mahisamardini form (slayer of the buffalo demon). They will continue unabated for the next four days till an appointed late evening hour halts the worship for the night and bring in a bit of respite.

The elaborate ceremony will test their priestly devotion and discipline to the limit – leaving most of them drained by the time the festival ends. Major Hindu festivals like Durgotsav are exhausting times for the priestly class but almost all see it as privilege and honour to be a part of the ceremonies.

For the rest of the Bengali community, however, it is a delightful breather from the drudgery of modern day life. In many states across the country the festival is a spell of officially declared holidays to allow long out of touch friends and families to catch up on news and gossips, picnic by food stalls and spend the wee hours roaming beautifully designed venues and watching culture shows.

An enduring legacy gifted by the powerful land owning aristocrats of West Bengal who transformed the private household ceremony to a communal celebration for all.


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