This is a day celebrated almost Pan India. Surprisingly this year it is being celebrated today, on 22nd October in almost whole of India, but where I am, in Kerala it would be tomorrow, 23rd October. Though I said surprisingly, but may be I shouldn’t be too surprised. Almost all the festivals, which traditionally are lunar based, have a day difference between Kerala and rest of India.
But here it is a bit different. I have seen is in Kerala preceding rest of India by one day, but in this case the Rest of India leads Kerala by one.
Today being a day before Dussera, it is celebrated in most of the Southern India as Ayudha Puja, the day dedicated to the Audha, arms. May be in old times, and even now in defence services, the people pray to the Goddess, with all the tanks, rifles and missiles decorated to be blessed by her. Of course the carriers of arms would be included in her blessings.
But in our life, the Industries, the blessing goes to our arms, the machines, the tools, fork-lifters, cranes and even things like Verniers and micrometers.
This in northern part, at least in Bengal is done on the Viswakarma Puja, on the Bhadra Sankranti (around mid september) this year as far as I remember it was on 18th September, but not being there not too sure of it. Viswakarma being the engineer of the divines, the prayers at factories on that day makes sense.
On the other hand, if I go by myths, then this day (Mahanavami), after nine days of prayer, the Goddess finally succumbed to Rama’s entreaties and blessed him, with divine power and arms, with which he could finally kill Ravana. In that case the worship of the tools of mass (or individual) destruction and not the tools of construction (which is Viswakarma, the Engineer’s forte) makes sense.
Even this Ayudha Puja seems to be done in different manners in different parts.
In Andhra Pradesh and I assume in Karnataka too, this Ayudha Puja is done with the image of the Astabhuja (eight armed) Devi with Tiger as her carrier, the classic Jagaddhatri form, not the Lion Riding, ten armed (Dasa Bhuja) Mahishashura Mardini form.
Interestingly here I found that the deity being worshipped is Saraswati, and no doubt of it, Shwetambari Veenapani on Lotus. After the rituals I asked and found that here it is the local tradition. Saraswati is the deity in-charge of knowledge, fina arts and I can extend that to crafts too. But will the industrial crafts too fall under her empire? The people here thinks so, and in democracy, majority is right. The discourse was in Malayalam, which I am yet to pick up except some scatterings, enough to get the sense. But the strotras were in Sanskrit, and strangely it was not Saraswati Vandana but Durgastuti. So it was a mix-up of two forms.
After the traditional Puja was over the cocunut breakin, which is a common tradition in whole of south, took place, and there again a difference glared at me. Usually we hold the coconut and in a hand and hit it at the corner of a stone (kept for the purpose) to break it. If you are an expert, you should be able to break it neatly into two halves in a single hit. The inequality of the halves, the number of pieces, number of strokes, all add to your own ego-demerit points.
Here too I followed the practice and broke the coconut into multiple pieces (not cleanly). Though in a single strike, but I had to pry open the two pieces through the crack, a major minus point, though not as major as others.
I was the first so I didn’t know the local procedure, in fact couldn’t have imagined it, and was surprised when the next person came with his coconut. He banged the coconut on the stone like a bomb, and exactly like a bomb made it break into sharpnels (not dangerous of course). It would require quite a bit of force to hurl a coconut and break it like that, I doubt whether I have it. I doubt had I tried it it would have bounced like cricket ball, may be a deformed, cracked at the seams, but still roundish single piece. So it was lucky that I followed usual (other place) traditional method.
After this of course something to do with Saraswati took place, again something new for me. It may be it is a local (may be even limited to this organisation) custom. A few children of the employees who had scored well in the Class 10 and 12 exams were given a small memento and a cash reward. This was good, especially if it is used to encourage the children to excel. I wonder had it happened last year? Last time in Dussera I had taken a leave and gone home to my village, in Bengal. Probably they had postponed (not the festivities, but the award) and I remember this award ceremony to take place during one of the annual functions.
And then as I have almost always found in Kerala, the feeling was of communal inclusiveness. This is a day here, as well as elsewhere, we encourage the family to join and come to factory (not for work of course, to celebrate along with their near and dear). There were girls (and women) in Burqua who stood through the ceremony, took the “Prasad” and ytou won’t find any sort of disharmony. Girls of course I could make out (because of Burqa), but men? Unless you know, you won’t. In fact my first bite of the Prasad came when the IUML (rather its the affiliated Trade union) President shared his packet with me. My packet obviously came up later.