Viswakarma Puja @ Kolkata : Now and Then

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Photo: Subhadip Mukherji (Thanks, hope you can fly these fresh ones tomorrow !)

September 16, 1966

When Deep and his friend Laltu reached the shop named Habib Ahmed Jarrah, it was already around  five thirty in the evening. The shop was already quite crowded with urchins of varied sizes and ages. Deep some how managed to push his head through the crowd and shouted “ Hey Azizbahi, what about our stuff, are they ready ?” Azizbhai shot a long smile and assured “Just give me some minutes, I would bring out your items, they are ready and I have packed them nicely. “

photo2457For the past one month Deep and Laltu were waiting for this day…. the delivery day for their items… kites, a reel of thread and a really good manja (glass dust pasted coloured thread). It was Laltu’s idea, to deposit their pocket money to Azizbhai every alternative day, otherwise they cannot gather so much money at the last moment…. a kind of forced savings. They were keeping a kind of rough record of their saved amount… and in any case, today they have brought a bit money..in case there is a short fall.
When Azizbhai handed over the two packets, they opened them and re-checked whether all the items are right there…. yes….yes.. here they are, two dozens of kites – 25 paise each; two reels of white cotton thread for 5 rupees, and,  500 yards of manja for 11 rupees. That is 22 rupees, meaning a shortfall of 2 rupees.“I would give the 2 rupees, you may pay me later” said Laltu.  Azizbhai said “So, you got all your items I suppose, bye, and, enjoy the Biswakarma puja.”

For Deep and many of his age,  Biswakarma (that is how Viswakarma is pronounced in this part of the country) is synonymous with “kite flying”, for early in the morning till evening.

September 17, 1966

The next morning Deep and Laltu were flying the kites from the roof-top of Laltu’s house. Deep’s house do not have a fenced roof top. Laltu belonged to gold-smith family and their family house is four-story high, and, flying kite from that height is indeed a real fun.

photo2425By  evening, once the kite flying is over they would be joined by 3 to 4 children of similar age and go around to visit the Biswakarma pujas arranged in different places.

Biswakarma is the God for machinery and tools. He rides on an elephant. In his one hand would be a chisel and in another would be a hammer.  In another hand a lotus and the last hand would hold a konch shell. Some over enthusiastic devotees would at times put a kite in one of the hands. Deep’s locality has several large factories, and, during this evening the main gate would remain open for all to visit the puja held inside. There would be a supervisor of the factory who would take these children on a round and explain to them the various machineries and show them the production line. Deep always enjoyed this part of the visit, and cherished a dream that, one day he would become a great engineer and invent many machines !!

At some factories they would offer Prasad, which normally would be various fruit pieces and sweets. By the time Deep returned home it would be  late evening, and, he would skip dinner and straight away go the sleep.

September 17, 2016

Today is the Biswakarma puja. I always remember the date. It is the only puja celebrated as per English calender. I always wondered why it is so. Pujas are held as per calculating the auspicious moment…. the thithi ….., but Biswakarma puja is always held on 17 of September every year.

Our locality do not have so many factories any more, they either closed down the shutters or the factory premises have been replaced by multi-storied buildings. The pujas are now held by people of different professions. We have many taxis in the locality. The taxi owners and drivers celebrate the puja, by cleaning the vehicles thoroughly and decorating them photo2428with flowers, little banana plants, and balloons ! The other emerging group which celebrate the puja is the workers of multi-storied houses …. the lift mechanics, water pump operators, in house electricians…. on the main entrance gate they place tender coconut balanced on a ghot (a special mud pot) filled with holy Ganges water. The bus owners and drivers also celebrate the puja. They organise feast for near and dear ones …. normally, these days, mutton is a common item for such occasion. (In our childhood days vegetable Khichri  – rice and dal cooked together with vegetable pieces – was the tradition).

At our organisation, an NGO,  we normally clean the vehicle, computers, printers …. after all they are machine too. Our puja is offered by an all women team ! Prasad .. sweet is distributed to all present during the time.

In the afternoon I found my son, taking grand-son on the pillion, going out some where. A little later they came back with a packet of Kites ! He never misses the day  when he buys the kites, though kites cannot be flown these days. For two reasons. One, for the past several years the day is lost due to heavy rain. Two, since there are tall buildings around one cannot fly a kite due to lack of steady flow of wind. But  my son keeps aloft the kite-flying tradition… Long Live Biswakarma…. long live Kite-flying celebration.

 

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