A new experience: Durga Puja the celebration of women


The Durga Puja Tableau

Forget lunch in Shepherds Bush, said my new Lady Architect friend. Come with me to Romford where you’ll see something different. Although I have lived in East London for over 20 years, I have never been to Romford and so: Yes, I thought, I’ll see something different.

With domestic challenges delaying her journey from Acton, LA was half an hour late so I waited in the large reception area of the venue to witness and absorb the profound meaning given by see something different.

Both reception and hall within were highly decorated – and possessed of beautiful women wearing saris of every myriad shade and every colour of every jewel. The sight was dazzling and graceful.

LA arrived resplendent in darker sari adorned with sparkling jewellery and glitterling brooch. She explained that this day was part of the Bengali celebration of Durga Puja a festival of and for women and one of which I was ignorant; the men cooked and served. I was the only secular woman in the room, several kindly men asked gently and politely if I was alright, did I need more food? Did I want anything at all?

The great room was bedecked for Durga Puja, which marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the mythological demon Mahishasura and is observed according to the Hindu solar calendar, between the 1st and 5th October, this week.

Here in Romford I saw a glittering tableau representing Durga, her daughters and sons including Ganesh, the only icon I recognised with his distinctive elephant head. LA explained that the scene depicts good over evil; Durga wields weapons in each of her ten arms having triumphed over the Buffalo demon. A daughter by each side is in turn flanked by a brother. The four children represent love, learning, the overcoming of obstacles and finally … wealth.

So now I understood the reason I had been brought here … for of love I have more than my fair share and to learn is something to which I aspire each day. My world of work however, has for many years presented more obstacles than I can begin to list … and wealth in its financial form continues to elude me. Perhaps I shouldn’t aspire to possess great wealth for as I remind myself often, when eventually I leave this mortal coil I can’t take it with me. But fewer obstacles and a little money right now would be nice.

Whilst these acknowlegements – and I suppose prayers – absorbed the mind, my eyes feasted on the melee of beauty threading and lacing around the room, men’s drumbeats seeming to power their movement. The collective energy was abundant, graceful, resolute, slow and strong: a remarkable and tangible femininity.

LA explained that at this particular festival, each icon is brought out every year. In West Bengal they are made afresh from clay annually and when the festival ends transported to the river for immersion. Not so practical here in Romford, so the community celebrates this ancient and coveted tradition in its own way; it means no less. Would that women were so extoled in other realms and aspects of life.

Reader, today I came to something unexpected and new, and loved every second of seeing and being, in ways never before encountered in my limited, white, collapsed Catholic life.

Thank you, LA for not telling me more about your gentle invitation; my routine-led and narrow sightlines, obsessed as they are with the daily grind may have discouraged the adventure.  As it is, I end this Tuesday with a new experience, a broader view and a happier heart.

Isn’t life grand?

© Giovanna Forte 2022

About fortewinks

A secretary at 19 and self employed at 26, Giovanna has evolved from PA to PR and now a British healthcare entrepreneur. She is also a bon vivant and mother of two clever and accomplished daughters. Youngest-of-All is a talented Patisserie Chef, founder of MonForte Viennoiserie, Melbourne's finest destination for pastries both savoury and sweet. FirstBorn is a self-employed Aromatherapy Practitioner, a published author and documentary journalist who lives closer to home in East London.
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