Archives For Durga Puja

Yesterday was the beginning of Navaratri (“nine nights”), an important Hindu festival that concentrates on the worship of Shakti (the divine feminine), devoting each of the nine nights to a different form of Shakti/Devi. While getting little attention from the mainstream press in the West, in India festival coverage, ruminations, and meditations, are everywhere. The Economic Times connects the festival to the recently-released Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world list, the Times of India explores the regional differences of the festival, and the Press Trust of India explores Kolkata’s effort to “go green” this year by encouraging eco-friendly statuary and employing the goddess Durga in the effort.

Durga Puja organisers have been encouraged to use solar power and LED lights to illuminate their pandals while eco-friendly paints worth more than Rs. 3 lakhs have been doled out free of cost to hundreds of artisans making Durga idols in the city. ”Possibly we are the first state in the country to have been successful in controlling the usage of lead paints in idols during festivals. Almost two-thirds of all idols made in the state this season are from eco-friendly paints,” Biswajit Mukherjee, chief law officer of the state’s environment department, told PTI … over 50,000 idols are immersed into various water bodies each year in the state, it leads to contamination in water making it unfit for the survival of aquatic life and drinking purposes.”

Similar efforts were also made involving the god Ganesha as well (in a related note, be sure to also check out the NYT piece on the environmentally focused Bishnoi tribe in India). Here in the West, there is one prominent Navaratri-related effort. The Hindu American Seva Charities is initiating the ShaktiSeva campaign to highlight the strength in the woman and bring in the forefront the energy within oneself”. The Washington Post’s On Faith site has a guest essay from Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu Pujarin, Unitarian Minister and Manbo Asogwe (Priestess of Vodou), on the initiative.

“This month of October, this season of autumn and Navratri, Hindu American Seva Charities is encouraging women to take the time to find, explore and express Shakti. You don’t have to be Hindu to take part inShaktiSeva service to the feminine principle, whatever that means to you. Talk the talk. Walk the walk. Reach out. Create. Heal. Celebrate in a way that is meaningful to you. Nine nights in a row, observe a ritual: it may be traditional, invented or a combination of the two. Call a friend. Light a candle. Help someone…or, ask for help. Just as you already know what Shakti is, you know, deep inside, who you are. This autumn, tend the light that glows within.”

This sounds like it could be an excellent initiative for Pagan and Goddess-oriented groups to participate in. As Saumya Arya Haas points out, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month and National Breast Cancer Awareness month, not to mention the lead-up to Samhain for many Western Pagans. Perhaps a Navaratri ethos could grow here, making the entire month of October the “Month of Goddesses”? A time of interfaith outreach, cooperation between different polytheistic and divine feminine-honoring faiths, activism, good works, and a joint re-framing of the October “silly season” into something more robust and serious-minded? Just a thought.

A joyous Navratri to my Hindu and Indo-Pagan readers! Hail to Devi/Shakti in all her forms! May the nine nights be full of blessings.

The five-day Durga Puja is one of India’s most popular festivals, and Hindus across the globe, from Moscow and Berlin to cities all across America attend (often lavish) gathering to worship the goddess Durga. However, one city for two years running has done its best to make sure local Hindus can’t have their festival.

“The Municipal Police authorities of Rome have today [Thursday] withdrawn permission, granted three weeks ago, to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. The cancellation came a few hours before the Ambassador of India was scheduled to inaugurate the Puja at 8 pm local time. No acceptable explanation has been given. This has caused the local Indian community the loss of thousands of Euros spent in preparatory arrangements. The same thing was done in the same manner in 2008 also.”

Arif Shahid Khan, the Indian ambassador to Italy, was able to eventually get permission restored, though their festivities are now 48 hours behind schedule (imagine if Christians were forced to wait until Tuesday to celebrate Easter). While some believe these 11th-hour cancellations are Catholic retribution for the mistreatment of Christians in India (because the best way to make a point about mistreatment is to engage in it), Kanchan Gupta sees a deeper motivation.

“There could be another reason, apart from its “deep concern” about the welfare of Christians in India, for Italy’s callous disregard of the sentiments of Hindus in that country. Although the Italian Constitution guarantees religious freedom, under the Lateran Treaty with the Vatican, Italy recognises only the three religions of Semitic origin — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All other religions are no more than paganism and are to be shamed and shunned. The Vatican would not countenance any open breach of the Lateran Treaty; Italy would not want to be seen as recognising Hinduism. “It’s only natural that Italy should have a surfeit of churches. But it’s the rejection of any other faith than Christianity, Judaism and Islam that explains why there are so many mosques but virtually no temples in Italy although this country has a large Hindu expatriate population,” my friend told me while regretting the attitude of the Government and the local authorities. According to him, there are only three temples in Italy: One in a garage in Venice; another at Frescolo and the third at Reggio Emilia. These survive at the mercy of local zoning officials.”

Catholic-dominated Italy, like Orthodox-controlled Greece, doesn’t tolerate manifestations of faith that fall too far outside the accepted Christian “norm”. In Italy you can still be prosectuted for insulting the Pope, and any whiff of modern Pagan religion gets you counted as a “Satanist” who needs an exorcism (despite all that, there is a thriving Pagan underground in Italy). These actions make Italian authorities look like vengeful thugs rather than prophetic Christians, as Gupta says in the close of his article: if Christians can celebrate Christmas in New Delhi, Hindus have the right to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. This is non-negotiable.” Maybe these authorities need to stop worrying so much about the Christians in India, and instead start worrying about the Consitution of Italy that guarantees equal treatment under the law.