Meeting Durga in Kolkata
On the way to paradise, I decided to do a stop-over in hell, so that I would savour the peace more!
And for hell ... I named Calcutta!
I did try though... I went there on business trips 3-4 times and each time I did not this city. I find it very noisy and cramped. But I always thought that I must have missed something ... I thought that as a tourist I might find it...
You arrive in an airport that dates back from another decade – you could feel in Mumbai airport 6 years ago, only worse.
You board a (yellow) taxi, which dates back from another century. At first the ragged seat fabric and the springs popping out are funny. The whole thing becomes less funny when you get stuck for half an hour in a procession! My friend who witnessed for the first time the parade of trucks carrying gigantic idols and dancing people to the sound of drums got mesmerised and forgot the discomfort of our vehicle! I must admit Kolkata doesn’t play small! One street was fully decorated with giant billboards with flashing bulbs and moving shapes. People yell. Cars are stopped. It’s Durga party!!
|Kolkata - Novembre 2012|
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We did not ask anyone who this Goddess was and we did well because it is very complicated! To be brief, and hoping I am not telling big bullshit, there is the feminine energy of the Divine, the Mother Goddess. When villains threaten the existence of the Gods themselves, it comes into action. And since it has to take a human form, this is Durga's who comes down. Her job it is to kill demons. That’s why she (usually) rides a lion and has many arms (8 or 10) - to take the weapons the other Gods have given her to do the dirty work.
And every time she comes down she takes a different form, otherwise it would be too easy. For example, there are Sati and Parvati and Kali (the two wives of Shiva). And then there are nine forms celebrated in turn during Navaratri festival that lasts nine days. For instance, if my information is correct, we have seen the immersion of the Durga / Maha Gauri ("an eight year old child wearing pure white clothes and jewellery [who] has only four arms"). I have to say we were quite lucky on this one because we visited Kolkata right during the celebrations of Navratri, which is very big especially in West Bengal (including Kolkata, its capital)!
Speaking of Kali, we visited Kalighat temple. Like many Hindu temples the building itself is absolutely uninteresting. However the crowd rushing to just take a look at the third eye of Kali is incredible. There's even a guy raised in the air and held by two ropes slipped under each armpit to repel people.
Once you've walked around and thrown some petals to the goddess, you'll be taken to the sacrifice altar. Initially you may think you have understood it wrong – after all you are French and the Indian accent is pretty strong – but then… They bring a black little goat. It really looks like the one a family was hugging just a few minutes earlier. And sprinkling with holy water. And crushing flowers on the head. No, but wait ! They are catching the legs now. But why ? Why are they putting its head on this piece of wood?? And then why are they he brandishes a sabre?? Oh shit, the goat is in two pieces. And our guide tells us that this is our lucky day, since the festival is going on, we will be able to see a lot of sacrifices! Youplaboum! And yet we escaped a buffalo sacrifice - you probably have to take a shower when the jugular is cut! I'm not a sissy huh, but when I pulled a tuft of goat hair from between my toes, I was still not so happy happy...
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Kali is an incarnation of Durga, who came down to fight a demon that thought he would play smart: whenever a drop of his blood would hit the ground, another demon would emerge. But Kali was even smarter, and here she was, licking the floor like crazy! As that is why she is usually depicted pulling out a large red tongue ... The thing was that since Durga was really pissed off the day she incarnated as Kali, Kali had become unstoppable. She was killing one demon after the other, stopping just enough time to pick up the skull and add it to her skull necklace as a souvenir. To stop her, Shiva - the consort of Durga and if you follow also of Kali – had to come and lie down and block her way. Then only did she stop and begin to dance on his back. Normal...
After that we went to lunch – yes despite all the above we were very hungry! And if there is one thing I would go back to Calcutta for, it is the chicken and egg rolls of Zeeshan. We just had a little trouble finding the place where my colleague had brought me once because it is a very small joint. It's like if you ask a taxi driver in Paris to bring you to "Paris Istanbul Kebab shop". But we found it because I rarely give up!
Then we visited (by chance) an abandoned Irish cemetery – great! – and the Victoria Memorial – a good reminder that Calcutta was the capital of British India until 1911.
We also stopped by the Centre of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa, just to say we did. We didn’t dare entering.
We took the subway – against all odds, in this city which is a wagon behind other major Indian cities, there is a metro!
We walked A LOT to get to the Ghats of the Hooghly River, a river of the Ganges. But it was worth it because we saw immersions of goddesses ...
We finished the day with a dinner at Amina, the fastfood of biryani. In Kolkata they have a special biryani with a potato and some unique spices.
A great day, full and well varied, but I still don’t feel really comfortable in this city. Too cramped. Too noisy. Too tiring.