Durga Puja Part 2: Oh Boya—It’s Bijoya!

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s just that I’ve been listening to “Shubho Bijoya!” all day, as Birparians wish each other a happy final phase of Durga Puja. (Incidentally, I published some new photos in the introductory Durga Puja post, check ‘em out or click over for a Durga refresher course).

“Shubho Bijoya!” shout men to each other before invoking the special only-used-for-Bijoya embrace—a three-hugger, heads switching sides between each platonic manly cuddle—like a supermodel air-kiss but without the kiss. Bijoya is the parading of Durga to the river, where she is submerged, let loose, and “sent back to her husband’s house.” This is how Bulbulda explained it, as we sat at Lovely Sweets, watching yet another shouting, drumming group parade by.

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“Maa (Mother) Durga comes from the house of her parents, and she goes to the house of her husband, Lord Shiva,” explained Bulbul. Birpara’s dozen or so Durga icons make the trip, each one amid its own riot of drumming, dust, and dancing, the glittery, decked-out statues riding high as they slowly roll down the MG Road on tea-trucks-turned-parade-floats.

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But before Bijoya, there are three nights of worshipping in front of as many Durgas as possible, though the social melee in the streets, and in and around each pandal, seems just as important as the praying. Bulbulda accompanied us during the biggest of the roaming nights, along with his wife, Bodi (that’s actually not her name, as “Bodi” means “sister-in-law” and is a term of affection, implying brother/sisterhood with your friends, just as the “-da” on the end of men’s names is short for “big brother” — on a related, but still parenthetical note, Bulbulda kept introducing us to people that night as his “brother” or “sister,” and I took him literally until the numbers became suspiciously large, so that when I commented on the size of his family he laughed and said, “All the boys in Birpara are my brother, all the women are my sister!”).

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Hitting all ten pandals (plus one mundi temple and a gated shrine in front of a massive tree trunk that featured a representation of Shiva’s lingam, or Godly Phallus, as it entered a Divine Yoni) involved a lot of walking and Tay and I saw more of Birpara than we had in two months.

The night’s only mishap, or should I say “mis-step,” was when Tay, refusing to enter the particularly ominous outhouse that Bulbulda found for her and Bodi, and assuming that an open-air hishie (“pee-pee”) behind said outhouse would be preferable to the dark, unknown horrors inside, and also proudly thinking herself a pro at such up-country improvisations, having survived three years in the West African bush, found herself thigh-deep in the black, mucky drainage ditch of aforementioned outhouse.

Most wives, I can confidently say, would have screamed, shrieked, or broken down in tears and demanded to be taken home in the next rickshaw. My ranga-bo, however, calmly accepted her fate, asked Bulbulda to take us to the nearest water source, which he did, purchasing a bar of soap on the way to the hand-pump at the empty train station. She washed her pants and squish-filled sandals the best she could, then we continued with the night’s tour—but only after a photo-op in front of a sign on the station walls reminding us that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness!”

If that night was the culmination of the pandal-viewing and roaming town, then the next day, “Bijoya,” was the finale of the week-long series of events. Bulbulda and I sat, he smoking his second cigarette, me on my third cup of cha (Tay was back in the phone booth, chatting with her maa in Colorado), as we watched yet another pandal club dance around their truck, in honor of their Maa Durga.

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“Bijoya means ‘victory,'” explained Bulbulda. “This Puja is actually about the destruction of evil.”

I paused when he told me this, seeing some sense for the first time, or at least, something with which I could remotely relate (in the midst of so many sparkling saris and smoke and day-glo statues with wigs and glitter crowns). Hindu rites didn’t have to be as complicated as they sometimes seemed. Durga killed the demon. So can we.

The idols were on their way to the river, but it was nighttime now, maybe 10 p.m., and we’d had enough. We remained seated at the table until the last pandal club, Sri Ajay’s group from Kalibari, had passed. The drumming faded, the night was cool and, finally, quiet in the bus stand. The dust, quite literally, was settling. It would have been dark at the river, where the idols were to be submerged in the current, released, their clay and straw corpses returning to the earth; and their paint, lacquer, and plastic ornaments joining the rest of the trash.

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“The next puja is Sunday,” said Bulbulda. “the day you are leave. It is Lakshmi Puja, God of Wealth and Prosperity.”

“But it’s not like Durga Puja?”

“No. It is quiet puja. With family, in homes.”

“Or on a train,” I said.

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