Durga has been worshipped in different forms for millennia in the subcontinent and in places in South Asia as well. However, now the best known form of worship of the goddess is the one which takes place over a course of four days on a grand scale in West Bengal and Bangladesh, and in Bengali communities in other places, both in India and all over the world.
To give people a glimpse of the rich variety of forms that Durga has appeared in down the ages, the Indian Museum of Kolkata has organised an exhibition at Ashutosh Centenary Hall. The eleven-day-long exhibition started from September 23.
The forms of Durga are known by various names in various places, and they differ in their looks in varying degrees as well. Chamundeshwari of Mysore, Shantadurga or Shanteri of Goa, and Tulja Bhavani and Ambabai of Maharashtra, are all forms of Durga, or the mother goddess, as she is known in Hinduism. She is considered an all-devouring as well as an all-nurturing mother.
Durga figures down the ages
The statuettes give the visitor a very good idea of the forms in which the goddess has been worshipped. The one we know today has ten hands, holding different weapons, and mounted on a lion, spearing the evil Mahishasura, emerging from a bull, to death, and thus saving the world from destruction. For this reason she is also popular by the name of Mahishashurmardini, or the slayer of Mahishashura.
However, as can be seen from the statuettes, that has not always been the case. There have been eight-handed Durgas, as well as two-handed ones. The weapons, headdresses and poses in which Durga has been imagined, have also varied widely. And the materials used to make the statues also have a lot of variety. Terracotta, burnt clay, stone, and various metals, like copper and others, and alloys, besides clay which makes up the bulk of the material now, have formed the base for creating the figurines of the mother goddess.
Durga statues on exhibition
Some of the oldest statuettes of Durga exhibited date from 2500 BC, from the time of the Mohen-jo-daro and Harappan civilizations, now located in Pakistan. There are terracotta figurines from the 2nd century BC.
Besides the figurines, the weapons of the goddess also form an important part of the exhibition. Conch shell (shankha), shield (dhal), sword (tarbari), mace (gada), trident (trishul), discuss (chakra) and other weapons are on display, in various designs and made of various materials.
According to Arijit Dutta Chaudhary, Director, Indian Museum, the building has been under renovation for quite some time, and hence closed. So the museum committee decided to put on display a part of its huge collection of statues of Durga. Being antique objects of high value, security issues prevent bringing the objects out of the museum for such displays too frequently. This enlightening exhibition is a gift from the museum to the people of Kolkata on the occasion of the grand festival of Durga Puja.
For anyone interested in ancient Indian art and culture, the exhibition at Ashutosh Centenary Hall is an enriching experience. Looking at the figures, one gets a clear idea of the evolution of Durga. Going through the wonderful galleries put up, the mind awakens to the excitement in the air, to the sounds of drum beats and conch shells, announcing the arrival of the annual carnival in all its glory.