The 10 days long Navratri had got over. Jagdipbhai and his twin daughters, Mousam and Malka, who are professional garba singers had exhausted after performing over 10 continuous nights at various garba venues in Ahmedabad. All what the body, mind and soul sought was a 3 days retreat at the abode of Amba Mata, the mother goddess of Gujarat.
Jagdipbhai’s case is a tiny example of millions of followers, who long for her darshan either during the navratri or immediately after it. The mother goddess Amba is a household deity. Women folk belonging to most of the Hindu communities worship her through dancing garba ras and offering obeisance. However, it is the children, who through informal and playful way build a special bond with the goddess during Navratri. Ambaji or Amba Mata and eight other goddesses such as Bahuchar Mata and Ashapura Mata are the 9 forms of mother goddesses, who according to the tradition bestow their power of wellness among their followers. There are numerous stories and folktales, which are told and retold to children by their grandparents at their leisure.
Children eagerly wait and make lots of informal planning months before the Navratri. The Mohala Mata or the Goddess of the Mohala (usually a space consisting of a cluster of houses, and enclosed by a fencing, wall, or another mohala, locally referred to as ‘pol’) is conceived in the form of an idol by the children. During my brief living in the walled city in 2008, I had developed a keen interest to experience the world of pol children through observation and interaction from time to time.
Though I did not witness the celebration by children, but was quite impressed by looking at the seamless creativity with relation to the range of idols that were found at most of the pols. In most cases they were permanently fixed to a house wall or to the community wall, and in some cases they were found free standing.
During the festival, children from the entire mohala gather and form teams, each assigned with a particular job. They collect money from mohala households to buy puja items and ingredients for feasts. Along with the permanent idol they also create a temporary idol with the help of an adult non-formal artisan. However, mostly they show the mother goddess through symbolic gestures such as creating steps to the mountains, where the goddess reside, and occasionally making miniature mountains of clay and mud. The span of 10 nights turns live with children performing arti in the evening and women playing garba ras. Prasad is offered to everyone in the mohala and to the visitors. On the day following the Dusshera the idols are immersed in a water body close to the walled city. At the end, gifts are bought from the collected money and distributed to the members.
The scene as I visualized transported me back to my childhood, when there was no cell phones, computers and other modern gadgets that today’s children are obsessed with. As I remember, Saraswati Puja and Ganesh Puja were two festivals I along with other children of the colony used to celebrate every year. A week before each puja, we used to start making the pendal (stage) by cutting and gluing papers of different colours and textures. On the night before the puja day, we used to make teams, one was assigned for plucking flowers, another was for arranging prasad and the third was for the preparation of immersion. There used to so much grace in each of these acts.
Decades later, it was a pleasure to experience the world of Ahmedabad’s pol children, intertwined with spirituality and the childhood fun filled with timeless ethos and purity, though the world has changed so much from the time of my childhood.