Doing the Bhangra at Durga Puja, Bandhavgarh

It has been a very lazy day and as usual, I have been having showers one after the other to escape the heat. As the evening approached, I was woken up by sounds – a cacophony of drums, trumpets, bells and flutes. It was the last day of the Durga Pooja as it was time for the villagers to perform a grand arti next to the forest lake before immersing the idol. There were villagers and tribal people with masks throwing colours at each other and dancing behind two tractors, which carried the Durga idol. The tractors moved slowly on the gravel road and then turned into the fields moving swiftly towards the lake. I got some good shots of the village’s youth dancing and celebrating as they dismounted the Durga statue for immersion. She looked fearsome with the sword, the trishul and the tiger beside her with a red chunni wrapped around the head. The priests were performing their rituals and chanting mantras as we all danced through the narrow dusty lanes of the village huts to reach the immersion spot. Here again, there was a huge party happening, nagadas being played full throttle. The pooja was being performed as the pandits burned diyas and fire to appease the Goddess. The colour of her face turned red as embers from the fire flew skywards. With the noise of the drums and the nagada, the atmosphere was electric. Village kids joined the festivities as the women folks dressed in their best clothes and bridal ware sat on the side holding large green grass in their fists. This, no doubt, was a symbol of fertility of both a mother and the land on which the villagers survived.

I, for one, got busy dancing to the loud noise of the drums. It was delightful as I danced myself into a frenzy. All the kids began to watch my movements and slowly joined in to clap and egged me on. This was ‘party all night’ and I got into the act with the locals. I even got pally with the witch doctor who had worn all black clothes and donned a black mask of Kali. He also held a weapon aloft. He was the village shaman or the witch doctor, the man who could talk to spirits and understand strange signs in nature. He, along with the Durga idol, made a lethal pair and I stood just next to them in between enjoying the chants of mantras. From time to time, I would dance and do the bhangra as the nagadas started to play. There was a point when I even started to do the Tandav of Shiva. All in all, it was great exercise for me and I feel refreshed after watching the immersion of the idol. I was cleansed again and the air had done me good. But the Village witch doctor – he will forever remain etched in my mind.

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