Durga is one of the most popular of the Hindu faith’s many deities. She is revered as a warrior goddess riding a lion or a tiger with eight or ten hands holding weapons and making symbolic hand gestures. Her mythology centres around combating evil and forces that threaten peace, prosperity and the karma of the good. She is the embodiment of feminine and creative energy (Shakti).
Durga Puja is an annual Hindu celebration of the goddess held annually in September or October. During the festival, Hindus commemorate Durga’s victory over evil with prayers and readings, decorations in temples and homes, and events recounting Durga’s legend. In India and especially in West Bengal, the festival (‘puja’) always concludes with the immersion of an effigy of Durga into a river or any other water body. This age-old ritual (‘bhashaan’) bids farewell to Durga as she returns to her husband and children in their spiritual home.
The Bengali population in London celebrate Durga Puja enthusiastically over 5-days but, for health and safety considerations it has only infrequently been permitted to perform the immersion ceremony on the banks of the River Thames (2006 and 2015). This year, however, thanks to the cooperation of the Bengali charity organisation, London Sharad Utsav, and by special permission of the Port of London Authorities, I was able to shoot a recreation of this Bengali ‘bhashaan’ ceremony on the banks of the River Thames close to Putney Bridge.
My image shows the ten-armed, beautifully decorated effigy of Durga being ceremoniously carried into the river by a selected group of men as the crowd pray on the bank and chant the farewell ‘asche bochor abar hobe’ (until next year). The women are colourfully dressed for the occasion in traditional laal-paar saris and the menfolk in their equally traditional and colourful kurta.
The effigy was built 10 years ago by the charity especially for their Durga Puja celebrations that take place in Ealing Town Hall. It shows Durga riding a lion and holding a weapon in each hand. For the past decade, the idol could only be worshipped indoors during Durga Puja. This year it could fulfil its rightful role in this recreated ‘mock-up’ immersion ceremony.