Over the years the idols of Ma Durga and her children only get bigger and grander, or so it seems from where I sit (if am lucky to get a space, mostly I just stand and get shoved around) in front of her looking at all the excitement surrounding them. The panditji praying, long winding lines of perspiring women dressed in their finest. A much calmer line of men in their cotton kurtas. Kids, getting in everyone’s way, who would rather be outside looking at the lights or buying plastic toys from the multi-coloured displays in the tents outside. A layer of smoke remains descended on the stage, heaps of flowers scattered everywhere, the scent of sandal and incense intermingling in the air with the smell of people.
In all this, Ma Durga with her big, beautiful and overpowering eyes (all idol makers get this right) slays the demon Mahishasura with a smile on her lips. And her four children with their calm benevolent expressions stand right beside her. Ganesh with his mouse and Lakshmi with her owl on Ma Durga’s right (out left, don’t get confused). Kartik with his peacock and Saraswati with her swan on their mother’s left.
I thought, today, I would share my favourite stories and legends of these children who share centre stage with their mother every year.
Everything is supposed to start with Ganesh’s name. So let his story be the first…
The story goes as such. Ma Durga kept bothering Ganesh to get married to a nice girl, but was worried how much her daughter-in-law and married son would love her. Maybe all mothers are such! So, Ganesh went outside the hut and brought a banana tree in. He said, “This is my wife to be.”
Today, one of the ceremonies in Durga Puja is Ganesh marrying his wife, a banana tree. The tree gets dressed in a traditional saree and stands next to Ganesh at her rightful place as his wife.
The ideal son has another story too. One day, on the Kailash mountains, home of Shiva and Parvati (Durga is one and the same), their 2 boys were playing. Ganesh and Kartik had a challenge. Who would be the fastest to go around the universe 7 times. They made their father countdown. 3.. 2.. 1.. Kartik zoomed forward and disappeared, a blur against the horizon. Ganesh remained where he was. He rode a mouse, how could he beat Kartik?
The parents, Nandi and everyone at Kailash wondered why Ganesh hadn’t run full speed. Ganesh had other plans. He calmly walked up to Shiva and Parvati. With his hands clasped in prayer, eyes closed, he started to walk around them in a circle. When he completed the circles, he said, “My parents are my entire world. I just went around that world.”
His answer pleased Shiva who then declared, that Ganesh would be the God whose name would be chanted before any other God. And so, even today, before any new beginning or a ceremony for other gods, Ganesh is called to bless us first.
When Kartik came back, he was angry. So he left Kailash and headed to the South. I have always wondered, why the other children of Ma Durga are so important, but Kartik is not prayed to as much. Much later I realised he is revered in the South. The Tamil God, Murugan. In the North we overlook him often, only during Durga Puja he stands next to Ma Durga.
Kartik is handsome. He rides a peacock that is often seen clutching a snake in his mouth. The snake symbolizes ego, that the God has control over.
Kartik is the God of War, but my favourite story of him is one of wisdom. His father sent him to Brahma, the Creator, to study and learn the secrets of life and knowledge. Kartik asked Brahma the meaning of Om. Brahma didn’t know, so Kartik came back to Kailash.
“I can’t learn from a teacher who does not know the meaning of Om,” he reasoned with Shiva. In reply, Shiva confessed even he didn’t know the meaning of Om. “I’ll share the knowledge with you, only if you give me the place of a Guru,” his bright son bargained.
Where could a God Like Shiva find a place higher than himself? He placed his son on his shoulder. Kartik then whispered the secret. Om is unconditional love. Om encompasses Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Both his parents were proud of their son. His mother, Paravati, then exclaimed, “You have become a teacher to my God.” Kartik got his new name this way – Swaminatha. Guru to the Lord.
A teacher (guru) has a higher place than God. This story also reminds me of a favourite couplet from Kabir.
Guru gobind dou khade,
kaake lagoon paay
Balihari guru aapne
gobind diyo batay
If God and my teacher are both standing in front of me. Whom do I pay my respects to first? I’ll bow to my teacher first who is the one who taught me about the magnificence of God.
Happy Durga Puja!
More on the festive season
Pic Credit Wikipedia