There is a Durgabari or Durga temple near my house in Delhi but I have never been inside it. Just as the clay effigy of Goddess Durga would roll into the temple at the start of navratri or the nine day celebration, the adjoining temple, where I went religiously since the age of nine, would start the erection of skyscraper effigies of Ravan and his two brothers, to be set aflame with great fanfare on the tenth day following navratri. Somewhere in a town in Gujarat girls and boys dressed in their chaniya-cholis skipped their way to their local raas-garba dance and the city of Mysore geared up for their Dusshera parade. Homes in Tamilnadu were erecting a rack of odd-numbered shelves of Kolu that is 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11 wooden planks and setting atop the rack dolls and toys along with the deities. The basic celebration in all parts of India was the celebration of good over evil. Vijayadashami may represent victory of Lord Rama over Demon Ravana to me but to my neighbor it could represent the triumph of Goddess Durga over the buffalo Demon Mahishasura.
When I left my hometown and traveled far away I discovered the many meanings of Vijaydashami or Dussehra. In my local temple came the golus, the garbas and the red smeared Durga worshippers. I can understand the desire therefore of the mother who wants to share her celebration with her daughter and wrote a book of poems to do that.
“‘Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!’ started as a thought while we were on vacation in Australia. We were in Brisbane, right around the time of Durga Puja and I was visiting an old friend who I grew up with in Mumbai. We were absolutely thrilled to find that the local Bengali Association would be celebrating Durga Puja and as we enjoyed the festivities of the “weekend Puja”.. we reminisced about our childhood when the whole city would come alive! I realized that as long as we lived outside India, my daughter may never get to experience Indian festivals the way I did growing up. I wanted to spark an interest in her so she would want to know more about our various festivals and Indian culture, in general.…I decided to recreate the magic of our festivals through poetry and thus ‘From The Toddler Diaries’ was born, “ says Shoumi Sen a Strategy, Sales and Marketing professional at a leading Energy Management company who grew up in Mumbai and Dubai and studied Engineering at BITS, Pilani and the University of Maryland, College Park. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and daughter.
My American son picked up Soumi’s book on Durga Puja. I saw shock register as his eyes alighted on the picture of Durga slaying the demon. “Why is this terrifying image in a children’s book?” I hurriedly scanned the poems for an explanation of Mahishasura and the goddess. The juxtaposition of the pictures and the text could be better with the text explaining the picture but the story was one that was close to the author’s heart. She had sung those poems to her daughter as she lay in her lap.
Sanjay Patel the Pixar animator and Academy Award–nominated director and author of The Little Book of Hindu Deities says,”Sure I grew up with the names,” he said. “But would I know that Hanuman was the son of the wind god? Or that Krishna was an avatar of Vishnu? Of course not.”
It was only later as an adult that Patel read books about Hinduism. He has now authored four books on Hinduism — all in style of animation. The books — The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow (2006), Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010), The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities (2011) and Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth (2012) have been huge successes.
As I wander into the Sri Krishna Balram temple on Reamwood Ave in Sunnyvale I laud mothers like Shoumi Sen who narrate the tales of their favorite goddesses and gods to their little ones bringing alive the joys and celebrations of India.
Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents. She is an award winning author, chef, debate coach, and mother of two boys.