stories, plays, rhymes and other things for children and childlike adults

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vishwakarma, the God of Machines and Tools

In the pantheon of Hindu gods and godesses, Vishwakarma is the god of machines and tools.

The wonderful thing about ancient religions like Hinduism is that they have a god for all reasons and seasons. Every aspect of life is idealised and taken to the inspirational level of a god. The wonderful thing about gods is that each must be given a day of remembrance and celebration. What's the point of being a major Hindu god if you can't have your own holiday?

Vishwakarma is the universal engineer. He makes the weapons and the ornaments, the palaces and the furniture, the machines (a la flying chariots) and the tools for all the gods. He is the ultimate craftsman: carpenter, artisan, fashion designer, architect and inventor all supremely rolled into one handsome, four-armed image.

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In Calcutta--now called Kolkata--Vishwakarma Puja or the day devoted to the prayer of the god Vishwakarma is held on the day the sun enters the zodiac sign of Virgo which is almost always on September 17. In this part of India, the day also marks the beginning of better weather and a heralds a long season of festivities.

A clay idol of the young god is created by artisans and installed in colourful roadside tents,  in workshops and factories. Taxis are festooned with marigold garlands and even balloons. All machines and tools are appreciated in the Hindu way with prayers, flowers and tilak. Most workshops give their machines a day of rest.

In fact, in our part of the world, even kitchens and their implements were given a day of cleaning and rest and the family ate a cold feast of traditional dishes cooked the day before!

When we were kids, this was one of our favourite festivals because we could fly kites for as long as we wanted and the entire Calcutta sky was densely spotted with traditional kites and kite-fight competitions. Intermittent shouts of "Voh Kattah!" rent the air whenever a kite was "cut" by another.

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We would prepare eagerly for days ahead of Vishwakarma Puja. Elders would give us kites and wooden rollers called "lathai" on which the thread was wound. Making the "manjha" or the kite-flying thread sharper by carefully covering every inch with ground glass and then wrapping it around poles to dry was a major task given only to the biggest and most responsible kids. We would count our stash and separate the kites into "types" and go through many after-school hours painstakingly ensuring that the holes we punched in them to attach the thread were in exactly the right place to "balance" the kites.

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On the big day, we'd run up to the terrace immediately after school and spend the day under the sun flying and fighting our kites with other people on other terraces. Mom would bring up jugs of rose sherbet and fresh lime shiknajvi in turns to keep us hydrated. According to traditional wisdom, it always rains on Vishwakarma Puja and every year, we'd hope it didn't.

The Calcutta sky is no longer filled with colourful kites on Vishwakarma Puja. We no longer have large joint families where all ages of adults and children lived under one roof. Young adults taught children the art of manjha-making, balancing or the techniques of flying and cutting kites. Every family had its own styles, skills and wisdom that it passed down the generations from uncles to nephews (and some tom-boy nieces).

Learning anything takes time and practice. Time is at a premium for our children who go from school to tuition classes to karate or yoga or drama or mathemagic or some such activity. They have other skills to learn and no time to fly kites for fun!

Our children don't have the freedom to spend hours feeling lifted by the pure pleasure of feeling the wind take a kite and then working with the wind to control its flight. More, they no longer want to be out in the sun. They would, perhaps, much rather fly a kite on an iPad app in the virtual world.

At the risk of becoming one of those "life was better when we were kids" mothers: Alas! I wish my kids knew the Hindu gods and godesses the way we did, as people with quirks and defects and likes and dislikes and life-stories that made our lives so much fun!

1 comment:

Anusia said...

Even I used to fly kites with my brother when I was a kid.