Prana Pratistha of Durga Murti at Ganga Talao

The consecration ceremony marks the recognition of the murti ‘to represent a particle of the divine whole’

In a press conference by the Mangal Mahadev Shakti Swaroop Association, its president Shri Anil Bachoo announced that the Association would proceed with the consecration of the giant murti of Durga at Ganga Talao on the 30th September and 1st October. He explained that Durga is an emanation of Parvati, the consort of Shiva, and this murti therefore finds its fitting place opposite that of Shiva in the same location. Work on it started in 2011, according to design and construction norms for such structures found in the Hindu sacred texts. Funded entirely by donations from devotees, it has required the skills of specialized Indian and Mauritian workers, and is of the same height as the murti of Shiva, namely 108 feet.

The number 108 has special significance in Hinduism, whose sages envisioned cosmic existence in terms of cycles, regulated by an intrinsic order or rta, conceived as being ‘the ordering principle of nature, the inflexible law of harmony, the universal cosmic flow which gives to everything from the vast galaxies, down to the nucleus of an atom, their nature and course.’ As Sadhguru of Isha Foundation explains: ‘The distances between the Sun and the Earth, the distances between the Moon and the Earth, the way the planet rotates and the impact it has – all these things have been looked at with great care. The diameter of the Sun multiplied by 108 equals the distance between Sun and Earth, and the diameter of the Moon multiplied by 108 equals the distance between Earth and Moon. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.’

A murti means ‘any form, embodiment or solid object, and typically refers to an image, statue or idol of a deity or person.’ When it comes to murtis of deities, it is useful to be guided by Pujya Swami Chinmayananda’s advice: ‘Look at the ideal behind the idol.’ Thus the object of worship is not the murti per se but what is embodied in it: the divine, Ultimate Reality in Hinduism known as Brahman. Brahman is the source of and is in the whole of existence, which refers to all that is to be found in the universe, comprising the living and non-living. Invisible, changeless and infinite, Brahman is in a potential, inactive state, and thus unmanifest, as the Unique Truth of all that is or exists. The feminine and masculine are subsumed within Brahman, and find expression in the manifested world of our existence, when they are then given different names according to the roles that they perform therein.

Thus, since in order to create, one must have knowledge, Brahma is associated with His consort Saraswati, who represents learning and wisdom. Similarly, to preserve, there must be wealth, so Vishnu is associated with Lakshmi, representing wealth; and Shiva is associated with Parvati, an embodiment of shakti or divine power who can manifest as Durga.

As the murti is made up of inert material, it must therefore be symbolically infused with the life principle which is of divine origin as explained above in relation to Brahman. The term for life force in Sanskrit is prana, and by the Prana Pratishtha (pratishtha means ‘installed’ or ‘consecrated’) ceremony, the murti is considered to become identical with the deity – in the present case, Durga. Thus the ceremony marks the recognition of the murti ‘to represent a particle of the divine whole, the divine perceived not in man’s image as a separate entity but as a formless, indescribable omnipresent whole (Brahman), with the divine presence a reminder of its transcendence (that is, beyond the material dimension) and to be beheld in one’s inner thoughts’ while worshipping.

The ritual of consecration which involves, amongst others, cleansing of the murti, chanting of Sanskrit mantras and hymns dedicated to Durga, making offerings, spraying of scented water and flowers will be performed under the supervision of two gurus who have come from India. This will done on Sunday 1st October, but will be preceded on the eve, Saturday 30th September, by a grand evening of musical renderings (‘Mata Ka Jagaran’) comprising devotional chanting of bhajans and kirtans, choreographies and theatrical presentations by artists in Bhojpuri, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Marathi.

Durga Puja: Navratri

In India, Durga Puja is celebrated with the most popular fervour and in the most grandiose fashion in West Bengal. Over and above the piousness associated with the Puja, there is also its celebration and festivity aspects that are its greater attraction especially for the uninitiated – such as I was, together with my fellow foreign student friends in then Calcutta when I was pursuing my medical studies there in the late 1960s/’70s.

We had what was known simply as ‘Puja holidays’ that came after the first term of college, and lasted a whole month spread over parts of September and October, according to the Hindu calendar. Our hostel was situated near a park known as the Park Circus Maidan, and for that whole month it became alive with traders and businessmen coming from mainly North India to sell their wares, especially goods needed for the winter as Puja marked the transition towards colder days.

It was a routine for us to stroll about almost every evening in the Maidan, to look around, have sweetmeats and from time to time to pick some item of necessity, as being students money was limited. So it was most of the time feasting the eyes. Nevertheless, it was great fun.

It was much later in my life that I sought to understand the deeper meaning of the Puja and all the other events that are part of the Hindu calendar. Gradually I came to appreciate the connecting thread that runs through them, that there is an underlying, very profound thinking that concerned itself with nothing less than existence itself: ‘what is the nature of the universe, of humankind, of divinity? How are they related? How do we live in a world torn between good and evil? And how do we find lasting satisfaction and inner peace?’

At last I have begun to see some light, and to appreciate that the three tales in the Devi Mahatmyam ‘are allegories of outer and inner experience, symbolized by the fierce battles the all-powerful Devi wages against throngs of demonic forces. Her adversaries represent the all too human impulses arising from the pursuit of power, possessions, and pleasure, and from illusions of self-importance. …the Devimahatmya’s killing grounds represent the field of human consciousness on which the drama of individual lives plays out in joy and sorrow, wisdom and folly.’

Just take a look at what is happening in our own country on a daily basis, starting at the individual level and spilling over in all its malevolence on to the national scene, and we cannot but accept that demonic forces are ever present in society. Not only in Mauritius, but all over the world, with terrorists and lunatics threatening peace and harmony. The greatest danger that is stalking the world now is that of a nuclear conflagration. We urgently need Ma Durga in our troubled world to restore some sanity and balance.

Jai Durga Mata.

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