Saturday, July 19, 2014

Haze and Fragrance of Durga Puja

Amidst the deafening bells and drums
These is a scent that sets the calm
The conch shells are blown loud in praise
But peace dwells in the smoky haze
The divine aura does spread all around
But with the burnt smell and not the sound
The festivity is on its peak
And I stand here drifting deep
In the magic created by the traditional incense
Lemony, light, burning wood; difficult to define this fragrance!

Clueless of what I was just talking about? It is always difficult to describe wind, touch and smell but didn’t realize how difficult that was till now. So instead of talking directly about the divine scent that I was trying to describe, and failed pretty bad I guess, let me give you the background so that you guys can relate.
Durga Pooja is the biggest and most important festival of West Bengal; this is something everyone knows. But did you know that it is also the most important festival of Orissa! Orissa and Assam being a part of Bengal in the past have similar culture to that of West Bengal and when we talk of Durga Pooja I can never let Cuttack out of it. Visiting Kolkata is a huge deal during this festival but so is visiting Cuttack.

Durga Pooja, being the extravagant event that it is, is celebrated in every nook and corner of these cities in sarbojanin pandals. The Mantras and hawans set the religious atmosphere in the entire city but with these is the abundance of flowers offered to Ma Durga Ma Sraswati Ma Lakshmi Kartikeya and Ganesha. Everywhere you go you are accompanied by the sweet smell of roses and jasmines. Then you have people who flock at these pandals to celebrate this auspicious week, all decked up and have to say drenched in varieties of perfumes. No pandal of Durga Puja would be complete without the bhog and the aroma of the freshly cooked Khichdi and kheer! Overpowering right? But what if there was a smell that could drown all these and sustain and rule your minds? As a kid I used to go on Pandal hoping with my family and loved the aroma that lingered on the entire city, but it was my last visit to my home town that made me realize what the aroma actually was.

When I last visited Cuttack during Durga Puja, it wasn’t the flowers that hit my senses. It was a sweet, very faint, but somehow strong – lemony, mixed with sandalwood scent, a tinge of pine maybe, a very evident burnt wood smell that occupied the smell sense sector of my brain. It was the smell of what we call “Jhuna” in Oriya and “Dhunno” in Bengoli aka Frankincense or Dammar. People have heard about the Dhuan Dance performed during Durga Puja but people hardly know about the key ingredient that makes the dhuan a healthy feel good smoke. Frankincense is one of the five key “arpans” done to goddess Durga and in every prayer or aarti of hers, and the dhuan is used to pray to her. But at the Chandi Durga Pandal of Cuttack this godly resin – Frankincense, slowly burns on burning charcoal, throughout the day, making the whole area a place where you could come and spend the whole day without any qualms and you would not want to leave.  Scientifically these resins calm our minds and lower our BP. Wouldn’t you want to let go of all your troubles always? Frankincense is often imported from the Arabian countries else Dammar of the Sal trees, which is found in abundance, is used for the dhuan. Though Frankincense is stronger in terms of fragrance, Dammar is powerful enough to drown the scent of the flowers and fill your senses.

To experience something ethereal you don't always have to travel to exotic places. My trips to Orissa always turn out to be memorable specially during the Pooja time. I wait year long just for Durga Pooja, for the festivities and the ambiance and the spiritual power, but somewhere I feel the essence of all this is in the blur of the dhuan and the scent of the divine. That is what sets Durga Pooja apart from every other festival. Wish someone would come up with some ideas of letting us rejoice in the fragrance of Frankincense every day, let go of all tensions, sadness, depression. But till then this year long wait is worth it! Can’t it be September already! Are you guys planning to attend Durga Pooja in your localities? Do they also use Frankincense or Dammar? Do you think any other scent trumps this fragrance? Let me know in your comments : )

P.S. - This post has been written for the #InspireAFragrance contest by Indiblogger and Godrej Aer.