I grew up in the 70s and 80s in a typical ‘Prabasi Bangali’ family in Chembur. For the uninitiated, a Prabasi Bangali is any Bengali who lives outside Bengal. Bengalis anywhere in the world would definitely be known for a few things – fish, rossogolla, and of course Durga Pujo! Our family was no different.
One of the strongest memories of my childhood is the excitement of going to the Chembur Durga Pujo pandal. It was a celebration of Goddess Durga, but for us children it was about getting new clothes, running around un-monitored and being allowed to stay up late. In 70s and 80s Mumbai, or Bombay as it was known then, there were no 10:00 p.m. deadlines to wind up the festivities. So they went on till 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. And imagine being allowed to stay up till then as children! We were in heaven.
As you can see, there was nothing religious about Durga Pujo, in our minds. As we grew up, not much changed. Durga Pujo was still about getting dressed up, catching up on the local gossip with friends, eating typical Bengali street food from the various food stalls, and generally hanging out.
In all this, there was one important part of Durga Pujo, that I discovered only post marriage. Frankly speaking, I have no recollection of this in my growing up years. I am talking about the tradition of Shindoor Khela.
Folklore has it that Ma Durga has come to earth to her maternal home along with her family of Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Kartik, and Lord Ganesh, for five days. The last day of her five day stay is Vijaya Dashami, or Dussehra. This is the day she and her family return to their heavenly abode. It is a bittersweet moment as the daughter prepares to return to her marital home, not to return for another year.
After ‘ghat visarjan’, a symbolic immersion of Durga declaring the end of the Puja rituals, Bengali women, usually dressed in white saris with red borders, first perform Devi Baran, bidding farewell to the Goddess. One by one, they perform an arati and apply shindoor on the forehead and feet of the Goddess. Once Devi Baran is done, they apply shindoor on each other’s forehead and the parting of their hair. Next, they playfully smear shindoor on each other’s faces and offer sweets to each other.
How I missed noticing or knowing about this ritual before marriage is a mystery to me. All I can think of, is that as children we were immersed in our own world and had no clue what the adults were up to! But after participating in it once, I cannot imagine missing this ritual ever. It is such a fitting goodbye. It brings a closure to the beautiful festivities of five days.
Moving from the 70s and 80s to the 2020s, maybe we need to rethink this tradition too. I would love for it be more inclusive. Why only married women? Let us have all women, all men, basically all humans, celebrate Shindoor Khela. Because at the end of the day what does it actually signify? We all grow up and leave our homes. Some of us go to faraway lands to work or study. Some of us live close to our childhood homes, but we do leave our childhood behind. So this ritual reminds us that we have taken a break from our busy schedules for five days, and it is time to go back to our lives now. And even though this is a goodbye, it tells us that our roots are here, and our homes and families are always waiting to lovingly welcome us back with open arms.
Shindoor Khela can be an Au Revoir……till we meet again….for everyone…