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Can Man Give" Life to God" - Durga Puja 2018

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One of the most magical parts of Durga Puja for me is the seminal ceremony of pran pratishtha, the prayer of putting life in the idol of the mother goddess...Ma Durga 

As a child in Calcutta, I found it fascinating to watch the priest lovingly pray to bring the goddess to life with mantras and the final touch, the painting of the eyes. It took me years, in fact, decades, to truly appreciate what I was seeing. In the Mahalaya prayers, which signal the start of the Durga Puja season, the chorus is ‘jaago, tumi Jaago’ (Awaken, O Goddess, awaken). Notice also the intimate ‘tumi’ (‘tum’ in Hindi) rather than the formal ‘apni’ (‘aap’), the worshipper is ever so close to the divine and not, indeed, separate from the divine.

Step back and think. In this one act of pran pratishtha, man imbibes the divinity within to bring God to life. What could be a more powerful and potent symbol of the unified inner divinity of the universe? The man at his worshipful best reaches a point in prayer wherein he/she is able to invest in the idol the divinity of life. And man is able to do this because there is no difference in the pure consciousness between man and God; both man and God are manifestations of the basic oneness.


That’s why Hinduism has devas and asuras — manifestations of devotion, mischief, good and evil. Man, says Hinduism, has the potential to go higher or lower in this chain of divinity. Man can make the journey from nar (human) to narayan (a god- like manifestation), or could turn to baser instincts. Even auras are not just ‘evil’ per se but merely less evolved manifestations of divinity. For instance, Ravan is not just a ‘demon’ as many Western writers put it, but a scholar of the Vedic texts enormously learned and capable of astonishing feats of worship and penance. Even in the Mahishasuramardini myth of Durga, Mahishasura is capable of such rigorous penance that he invokes Brahma, the Creator in the Hindu Trinity, who has no choice but to give him a boon.

(Here, note the subtle but infinitely empowering logic of Hindu myths: a. If a worshipper prays hard enough, God has no choice but to appear. b. And once God appears, he must give a boon. The power is not just in the hands of the divine, but also the worshipper.)

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It is Ravan who has the capability, in the legend, to build a stairway to heaven, but distracted by his whims and baser instincts, he fails to complete it. That’s why avatars are but manifestations, divinity in different forms. We are all manifestations of the same divinity, says Hinduism, but avatars are the highest and most evolved form of that manifestation.

Let me end by recalling one of the Durga Puja prayers:

Sarva mangala mangalye shive sarvaartha saadhike

Sharanye trayambake Gauri

Narayani namosthute.

sarva mangala mangalye — To That which is auspicious in all that is auspicious 

shive — To That Consciousness 

sarvarrtha saadhike — To That which Accomplishes Everything 

sharanye — To the Refuge of All That Is to the Source of Refuge

tryambake — To the Mother of The Three Worlds 

Gauri — To the Goddess of Illumination 

Naaraayani — To She Who Reveals Consciousness 

Namostute — To You We Bow, To You We Worship.

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