Calcutta's Durga Puja

Long before the Spice Girls, the Indian Goddess Durga embodied Girl Power by battling evil with grace."

- TIME, September 14, 1998
                                               Calcutta's annual Durga Puja is an excellent example of how time-worn Goddess traditions continue in the present day, but have undergone some changes which reflect the changing world. In 1996, Calcutta featured scenes from the Puja on-line and became a trailblazer, pioneering the way for the Goddess in cyberspace. Again in 1998, while thousands attended the Durga Puja festivities in Calcutta, tens of thousands of others tuned in to the event via the net. According to India Today, Durga's festival website was expecting 20,000 hits per day when the issue went to press on October 12, 1998.

In this case, rather than being at odds with modernization, Goddess Durga's image and message was aided by the use of modern technology which helped to carry coverage of Calcutta's puja to areas of the world that might not have otherwise had access to the event. "Mythology has finally blended with technology," remarked Venkat Subbarao, the chief executive officer of Computer Associates TCG Software Private Ltd., one of the companies which fashioned a Goddess Durga website for the occasion. (India Today, 11/12/98)

Calcutta's Durga Puja bears the marks of modernization in other ways, too. Thousands still turn out to pay homage to Goddess Durga. But they turn out to be entertained, too. The pujas still involve traditional devotional chants, offerings and prayers, but they also involve glitz, glamour and other modern trappings.

"The pujas are no longer just a religious occasion, it's more of an event." says Pradeep Ghosh. (India Today, 11/12/98). Ghosh was the president of one of the 1,300 puja committees who participated in Calcutta's 1998 Durga Puja.

The puja comittees, all in competition to design a winning "pandal" (or festival scene), must come up with unique and eye-catching ideas which stand out from the rest. The 1998 Durga Puja featured a giant Godzilla figure who gobbled a car, a huge model of the Titanic which docked in the middle of the festival and Monica Lewinsky's face superimposed on Durga's! (India Today, 11/12/98)

Some might call such modern trappings sacrilege, lament the commercialization of the event or say that festival-goers are losing sight of the religious importance of it. And this might be true. But, others will argue it is only natural that the Goddess and her worship take on aspects of modern times if she is to survive them. Hindu Goddess worship has never been about separating the Goddess out from the material world and everyday life, so why should it become so now?

In order to keep up with her devotees, the Goddess must meet their needs in this increasingly technological world. And, in expressing their devotion to the Goddess, why should devotees not use the best and most modern materials available to them?

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