It’s Kali Pujo (or Puja) today! The Goddess of Destruction will be worshiped today in large parts of Bengal.
When I was in school, I used to go to my maternal uncle’s house during this time of the year and had a lot of fun.
This story is about one such festival day.
I and my sister were woken up by the elders. I don’t remember who woke us up but I do remember, how we sprang out of the bed hearing what they had to say.
“There are two little goats in the garden, get up if you want to see!” – is what we were told.
We rushed to the huge garden and were pleasantly surprised to see two small goats (in Bengali we call them as “kochi patha”) tied to the mango tree, happily grazing on the few grass that were present near the tree.
With the toothbrush in our hands, we walked towards them. Before long, we were playing – patting them on their back, caressing them with our hands and feeding them grass.
This continued for a couple of hours before the goats were untied and taken away.
Early afternoon we proceeded to the nearest Kalibari (temple of Goddess Kali) to witness the pujo. The place was heavily crowded to see a thing.
Fortunately my maternal uncle (he is no more) was a respected member and one of the organizing chairpersons of the festival committee, we got to see everything that unfolded standing on the heavily decorated veranda of the Kalibari.
While the priest chanted away mantras which never excited me as a kid, what caught my eyes were the two goats that we had played with the whole morning being brought nearby.
They were garlanded, a tilak put on their forehead. A man bare bodied, stout, wearing a white dhoti came forward holding a sharp object in his hand.
Another man used force to place the heads of the goats on the two adjacently kept sacrificial stands. Reality slowly started dawning on me.
Once signaled, with a single strike he chopped off the head of each of the goats.
The head dropped motionless with the eyes still open and the body made shivering attempts at the final stages of life towards death.
The weather was gloomy since morning and soon enough it rained heavily. The blood mixed with the rain water and flowed freely in the temple premise to the drain. It was a gory sight for me back then.
We came back soon after the rain stopped.
Later the remains were brought to our maternal uncle’s house. They were skinned, cleaned and cut before being cooked (without onion and garlic – meat from sacrifice is considered satvic or “niramish” in Bengal) and distributed among the residents of the locality…including me!
Animal sacrifice has gone down over the years and I never saw another animal sacrifice from then on.
However, every year from then on, during Kali Puja the memories of that particular day come alive in my mind. It stays for a day and then goes away only to revisit the next year.