It is that time of year again, when over a billion people across the world celebrate Shakti, the female creative power. It is a time of phenomenal creativity, when building-sized temples, called pandals, are erected from sustainable, recycled, and biodegradable materials in almost every neighborhood in Kolkata, and many other villages, towns, and cities throughout India and the world. For each pandal, its architectural structure and decorations within, including the larger-than-life clay manifestations of Shakti, are crafted by talented artists, artisans, sculptors, weavers, and potters. Each pandalis unique, a marvel of human ingenuity and a work of loving dedication. And remarkably, each pandal’smaterial existenceis temporary, to be dismantled, recycled and re-absorbed at the end of the celebrations. Even the clay manifestations of Shakti are immersed with great fanfare in the River Ganges to underscore the ephemeral nature of all that exists.
Wherever there are Hindus, these ten days and Navaratri (nine nights) of Durga puja (the reverence of the Warrior Goddess Durga, a manifestation of Shakti) are when women wrap themselves with great care in their finest hand-crafted saris and men in their crispest dhotis. This year Durga puja or Navaratri falls on the dates of October 17th– 26th of the Christian Gregorian calendar. This is a time of great joy and reverence, a time when families and friends gather in great crowds in public spaces outdoors and indoors. They marvel at the pandalstogether, pay their respects to the manifestations of Shakti, eat mouth-watering multi-course meals, and savor entertaining cultural programs, all while animatedly exchanging well wishes and reminiscences. This is a time of music, dances, and plays, performed with special gusto by professionals and amateurs alike. But above all, this is a time when the power of the female is revered and praised. And that is a unique phenomenon indeed.
In 2010, The Pew Research Center compiled data on the major religious groups in the world. About 2.2 billion people were found to be Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, 1.0 billion Hindus, 410 million adherents of indigenous religions, 490 million Buddhists, 25 million Sikhs, and 14 million Jews. Other religions with less than 10 million adherents each included Taoism, Jainism, Baha’i, Shintoism, and Zoroastrianism. What these numbers translate to is that of 7 billion people, earth’s total human population in 2010, the adherents of essentially all major religions believes in a male or neutral omnipotence. All major religions, with the exception of Hinduism and many indigenous religions, that is.