Durga is the original style statement. Check her idols with an eye for fashion this puja and you are sure to find this diva divine scoring pretty high on style quotient. Whether in an ornate Banarasi, the quintessentially Bong red-bordered white sari, a loose drape or short choli… the rupena in which she samsthita are more than many. And when that thick rush of hair cascades down her shapely curves, her ruby-red Monalisa smile perhaps tries to camouflage that effect she has on men from California to Kolkata. I mean that effect of awe, which has everyone transfixed at her kohl-smeared smoky eyes. Durga is a style; Durga is a look; the sole and soul of fashion that is so very Bangali.
Back then (God knows when), Durga could well have chosen to cover herself from head to toe to avert countless eyes glaring at her, on her pleasure trip. Or she could have worn a more informal look, for who would have cared about what she wore at her father’s place? Instead, like a working mother, travelling alone with kids in between battles with demons and holy crusades, she pleated her sari, buckled up her waist belt and pulled back her loose tresses with a bejewelled band. There isn’t any scientific evidence, not so far at least, for the existence of this sought-after Hindu pantheon, let alone for what she wore. But the age-old scriptures acknowledge her as the invincible, the Supreme Being dressed to kill, and it is in this same light that we continue to see her.
By profession, Durga was a soldier. It would be technically incorrect to say that Durga could single-handedly vanquish the most powerful of demons because she had 10 arms, each holding a killer weapon. That is what gave her the power status and made her the Adi Shakti. Then again, she was an incorrigible romantic who loved her reckless husband to no end and brought up four children with utmost care. This added the touch of softness to her fighting spirit and gave her the universal Maatri roop. Were the two poles in her personality reflected in the way she carried herself? Did clothes make the woman that Durga was?
Ancient Indian temples have carved her as the beauty with brawn. As her victim prostrates at her feet, she stands there most gracefully as if to pose for the sculptor. Her hour-glass figure and stately getup are so visually appealing that the oddity of her multiple limbs is often either ignored or accepted as only divine composition.
These sculptures have hardly draped her in a sari. She mostly adorns the temple walls in her full voluptuous self-covered with heavy ornamentation and a plaster barely embracing her lower body. Like a valiant warrior, she seems hardly to care for embarrassment and looks at once like the vanquisher as well as the model beauty queen. Ironically, this ancient manifestation of Durga is far too daring for the modern disposition at large. But even for those of us who prefer more cloth to cover up than Durga did in the carvings, her ornaments – from crown to armlets to waistband and anklets — are still the most desirable.
Paradigm of power & epitome
The scriptures too described her as the paradigm of power and epitome of beauty. Her holiness becomes the all-abiding and the omnipresent. Mother worship was a popular Vedic custom. Here, Durga was the goddess of the universe, the core of strength, knowledge and wisdom. The learned sages tried to portray her as the core power beyond the male-dominated Hindu pantheon. Chandi Path, which dates back to the era of the Puranas, glorifies her as Shakti, the one who is over and above patriarchy. But not any of this heavy-duty Shaktism could manage to take away from Durga her feminine grace and élan. Her arms wielded cosmic weapons while her lotus eyes were replete with mercy. Her clothing too got a local flavour and regular look in a flowing, pleated skirt, that could be more easily associated with. Then, from admiration for the sculptured walls of temples she became the subject of widespread worship.
As time went by and Durga as the seat of power gained popularity in Bengal, she turned into an overwhelming image with a Pied-Piper effect on locals and foreigners alike. This was a hypocritical and artificial society ruled by men who confined their mothers, ignored their wives and cast away their daughters at tender ages. But Durga, never for once, was disrespected or slighted by them. She was worshiped, in full regalia, by the rulers, landlords and their subjects. Of course, this benediction can be ruled out as mere sycophancy towards the British Raaj and a gross exhibition of wealth. The warrior queen and mother goddess was perhaps only a medium for the zamindars to flaunt and brag, but this show off did her already larger-than-life image, a world of good. She was a communal binder, the nexus of devotion across religions, communities, classes and ages. Durgotsav was unique to the personal residences of the affluent in the 16th century but gradually the private ceremony took on a more communal colouring with the 18th century aristocrats opening their doors to the public during the autumn festival.
It goes without saying that the prosperity of the hosts was clearly reflected in how the goddess was decked up in their sharbojonin utsav or the festival for all. She was seen in the same frame that featured her two sons — Kartik and Ganesh — and her two daughters — Lakshmi and Saraswati. The clay structures in front of the ek chala tableau dazzled with embellishments. The resplendence was both a proof of and a thanksgiving for good harvest in the paddy fields. Durga was symbolic of the antarmahals that jingled with jewellery but hid its women from the world outside. From the huge crown on Durga’s head to the thick anklet that she wore, nothing of what she was made to wear was old-fashioned or uncharacteristic of the women of those times.
The same can be said of the idols that graced barowari puja later on. Durga was mostly either given a sholar shaaj — the pristine white look from sponge wood decoration — or the daaker shaj — the ornamentation from beaten silver imported by the wealthier echelon from Germany. Both the white and the bright appearances have been widely emulated by women through the ages. When the Tagores of Jorasanko introduced the Parsi and the western influence on clothing, women too got a makeover.
The reformist flames that set Bengal ablaze in the 19th century and flared up in the early 20th century heated up not only the educational and social spheres but also brought about a radical change in the way women dressed up. They learnt to guard their vulnerabilities behind a well-fitted blouse; pleated and pinned their saris to look more urban and sophisticated. Naturally, when the potters of Kumortuli gave Durga the same pleated look, the towering goddess spread the style wherever she went. Soon, the neat-pleat wear was in vogue and young college goers to middle-aged housewives make the sari their second skin.
Times have changed it is said, since then, and with time, so has everything else. True. After the colonial rule and the changes it brought to traditional clothing, the next lifestyle revolution that came in its own sweet time but took Bengal by storm was the advent of high technology. Reigning supreme presently is the tech frenzy that has almost everyone and everything cooped up in computers or phones. But even this change has failed to uproot the custom of Durga Puja and the goddess’ traditional attire. Sometimes, like in theme parties, Durga gets a stylised avatar to match the ideas and thoughts of an artist. But she still wears that sari and still inspires every woman to drape one when she comes.
Durga is eternally the muse of potters, poets and painters. She is the power that unites, strengthens and heals. As Jayanti, Mangala, Kali, Bhadrakali, Kapalini or even as Durga, Shiba, Kshama, Dhatri, Swaha, Swadha, she is the hope in misery, the cure in illness and the holy light that guides us through every test. Just as her eyes glow with motherly kindness, her third eye mystifies with its celestial glory. Her divine appeal is magnetic and has shown no sign of surrendering to the turns of time.
smell of kash, dhoop, dhuno
A white sari with a broad red border, a red bindi, a dash of kohl and little bit of gold are all that women want to mirror the sublimity and radiance of the Devi. The smell of kash, dhoop, dhuno and that of new clothes fill the autumnal air and flows from one home to another touching every woman with a newness that brings forth the Durga in her. Standing tall like a female icon, Durga embodies the rupam, jayam, yasho and dwisho that every woman seeks.
Durga is a class apart when it comes to her style. She is a true hero who endures time and flux with her inner strength and righteousness. Visit any premise in which she has taken the centre stage and she will appear no less like an enlightened being who has transcended the divides in society and brought everyone under a single roof.
Sachandana, Gandha, Pushpa, Bilwa, Patranjali, the resounding dhaak and the magical chants only add on to the aura that Durga embodies in her fiery red and hypnotic gold. Durga is sarva bhuteshu; Durga is magic; Durga is God. And more personally speaking, I see Durga as a super model, a super mom and a super star.
Namestasyai, Namestasyai, Namestasyai, Namoh Namah.