Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Recycled Goddess Shawl

There are millions of gods and goddesses in India. Literally. I have a few favorites. One is Durga. She is a 10 armed Goddess of strength. She's a warrior. She rides a tiger or a lion. She laughs at her enemies. She's cool. I have an image of Durga on a pendant I frequently wear, especially when I need to be reminded of her strength.

My friend Regina and I were in Deeg, a small town of Bharatpur near the famous Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary. We went birding in the morning and found out we were very close to a famous Durga temple. As fate would have it, it was Durga Day (Friday). Each day of the week is dedicated to a particular favorite god (Wednesday is for Ganesh, Tuesday for Hanuman, etc.). It took this as an auspicious omen.

Outside of the temple Regina and I got all the goodies Durga would like: a coconut, incense, candies, and flower garland. We went inside and gave Durga the loot. It's often hard to tell what's what in the temples. The deity is often a mass of flower garlands, sparkly foil crowns, bright orange paint, silver leaf, and lots of other sparkly embellishments. The priest split our coconut, now having been blessed by the goddess, gave us some sweets and a special treat of a red nylon Durga shawl decorated with gold garland. Our guide said this was very lucky for us. We left with our very special treats on a silver stainless steel platter.

Alas, Regina's treats never made it into the plastic bag. Cries from the locals sitting by the temple did nothing to stop a thieving red-faced monkey from ambushing Regina, deftly knocking the tray from her hand and making off with her blessed coconut. He jumped up on a wall and sat there happily munching his stolen prize. (See more about monkeys on my 12/9 Monkey Business post) At least Regina still had her glamorous Durga shawl.

I have since learned that the Durga "shawl" is called a "Mata Ki Chunary." It can be purchased outside of the temple to cover the head out of respect when you enter. As such, it is a symbol of the Goddess. Sometimes people give their Mata Ki Chunary to the priest as an offering to Durga. As my friend said, "The priest gets it from the devotee free of cost. So when any person offers good money for the temple, the priest gives it to them to please them. It is good business."

I love this. It's in keeping with the "Green" recycling theme that's so prevalent now in the U.S. It's also very typical of India—a fantastical, dichotomous mix of the spiritual and the material.

It's Christmas time here. We put up our kitschy lime green foil Christmas tree. I was never very happy with the tree skirts I have. Then I remembered my wondrous Durga shawl. The red garnet color and gold tinsel foil of the shawl look absolutely beautiful swathed around the Christmas tree. At least for the holiday season, I am reminded of Durga every day. I think she would like it. She has a good sense of humor.

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