The goddess has been invoked to descend from her heavenly abode to earth. On Mahalaya, the first day of Devi-paksha, it is said that Durga starts the journey to her home, and with it starts the festival.
The occasion is marked rather dramatically by Bengalis who wake up at 4 am and tune into Birendra Bhadra’s 1931-radio recitation of Mahishashura Mardini.
His reverberating chanting remains a unique characteristic of the day so many years on.
It’s also on Mahalaya that sculptors paint the eyes on the idols of Durga, signifying that life has been ushered into the clay models.
Power of women
For a community that reveres the female form of Shakti in Durga and Kali, artistic impressions of the goddess speak for the divinity it places in women.
“All women are powerful. Look how they balance so many responsibilities at one time. It’s represented in Durga and her ten hands. For me, the goddess is everywhere,” says Basuki Dasgupta, whose works often portray his thoughts of the condition of women in society.
“I saw my own mother struggle to bring me up. And I am witness to how little she and most other women’s efforts are recognised. This burns me up,” he says.
Dasgupta uses shades of red to denote power in his paintings.
“The sword is an expression of my anger. But I always show a sense of calm in the eyes.”
Another artist who has made Bangalore his home, Paresh Hazra feels that the idols of goddesses we see all around are nothing but artistic depictions themselves. “Spirituality is an abstract concept and to relay it to the lay man, the symbolism of our beliefs was shaped into idols. For instance, the showing of ashthabhuja (eight hands) for the power of women - the nurturer, the mother is shown in different ways in the goddess too,” says Hazra whose own depiction rests on showing the every day woman in different aspects of her nature and roles.
He says, “The goddess is amongst us, fighting for her survival.”