Rashmi Rekha Das, OP
The Chaitanya Jhanki celebrations organised by the Brahma Kumaris intends to instill positive thoughts in the minds of devotees and raise awareness about the importance of meditation and self-realisation
The worship of the goddess is one of the longest standing religious traditions in Hinduism. In fact, the worship of the Devi is not sectarian; it does not belong to any cult. So devotees, irrespective of caste, creed and colour, worship Durga and her many appellations during a nine-night festival called Navaratri. It is observed and celebrated differently in different regions; for example, in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra people wear different colours of dresses on each day.
In South India, the goddess is worshipped for the first three days of Navaratri, followed by Goddess Lakshmi for the next three days and ending with Goddess Saraswati on the final three days of Navaratri. The most renowned and flamboyant Navaratri celebrations occur in western India in Gujarat and Mumbai. In West Bengal, Navaratri and Dussehra are celebrated as Durga puja. Whereas the Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual organisation, celebrates the festival in a unique way every year by creating a live show of the goddesses which is called Chaitanya Jhanki.
Every year during the days of Durga puja, they enliven the goddess in flesh and blood. They have volunteers from their institute who dress up as Maa Durga, Maa Lakhmi and Maa Saraswati and the Asura. They sit on their respective thrones of flowers or animals and give “darshan” to devotees. People come from far and wide to see the show of the living goddess.
Once the curtain goes up, the sisters embellished in attires of the goddesses give ‘darshan’ for about 10-15 minutes. After which the sisters on the stage are given a break of 5-10 minutes. They can relax during this time, because once the curtain goes up – they freeze, with the only exception of the occasional blinking of the eyelid. It really is quite impressive to stay the way the ‘actors’ stay without twitching a muscle and with only an occasional blink. Besides, the degree of on-stage perfection is hard to imagine, without meditational capabilities. There are obviously enough distraction for these performers, with shutterbugs, the cheering crowd and people talking. But they do not pay heed to them and stand still in their postures.
Sister Lina, the regional head of the Brahma Kumaris, Orissa, is of the opinion that jhanki means exhibition. “We believe that Devi worship or Shakti worship is worship of god’s glory, of god’s greatness and supremacy. It is adoration of the Almighty. Devi is the conscious power of the Devas. Let this never be forgotten. The spiritual meaning of Navaratri is to celebrate the success of the goddesses in destroying the vices and weakness in us. We believe that these goddesses represent the success of Shiv Shaktis in the struggle between darkness and light. When we learn to connect with god, we can take in the powers of knowledge, peace, love, joy, happiness, bliss and contentment, and with these qualities transform the negativity which blocks our light and happiness. People worship expensive clay idols of Goddess Durga and immerse them resulting in water pollution. Human beings are unaware of the fact that humans are compared to deities and their souls are Shakti. Chaitanya Jhanki is observed every year to welcome the divine power among humans to bless fellow human beings for their wellbeing,” she said.
Sister Madhu was portrayed as Goddess Lakshmi in 2008 and 2010. To the query whether she felt nervous while doing it in front of a huge audience, she said: “We have been able to perform this as we practise Raja Yoga meditation everyday. We organise the ‘Living Durga’ show every year to inculcate positive thoughts in the minds of the people and make them aware of the importance of meditation and self-realisation. Shakti or Devi is the ultimate source of power. So when I portray the goddess, I feel even more energetic. We all are more of soul conscious when we perform this. Hence, we do not feel any body fatigue while doing this. Neither noise nor criticism deter us. By doing the live show we make people aware that we can possess godly values and characteristics by performing noble deeds.”
Brahma Kumari Puspak, who portrayed Ganesh said: “I felt as if I was possessed by some heavenly power when I was part of the live show. You would be surprised to know that I was born on Ganesh Chaturthi and my nickname is also Ganesh. So when I was asked to dress up as Lord Ganesh, my happiness knew no bounds. It was 1999 when I took part in the live show for the first time. In the attire of Ganesh, I wish all the problems of human beings get solved and all will lead a peaceful life.”
Sister Gayatri who portrayed the character of Gayatri, Lakshmi and Saraswati said: “I find myself lucky to dress up as goddesses and sit motionless for hours. I depict manifestations of Mother Goddess. The objective behind holding the live show is to awaken the inner power of fellow human beings.”
She said: “This festival signifies women empowerment in particular and awakening of one’s undiscovered powers in general. When one connects to the Supreme power, s/he is able to gain all his powers which can destroy negativities, symbolised as Goddess Durga sitting over the lion. The eight arms and weapons also signify the gain of spiritual powers from Godfather Shiva. Hence, these goddesses are remembered and worshipped as Shivshaktis. So, now is the time when god has been reincarnated and we have an opportunity to empower ourselves from within.”
According to sister Ranu, the event is organised to bring out the significance of the Navaratri festival as well as to celebrate the rich tradition associated with it. “We worship Shivashakti but what connection does Shiva have with shaktis? The shaktis are the memorial of souls who were companions of Supreme Soul Shiva, the ocean of all powers. This power from the Supreme dispels the darkness of ignorance in the soul, resulting in the experience of peace, happiness and contentment,” she said.
Sister Ranju opines that a major attraction of the jhanki is give darshan to people who stand quietly for a long time, watching with fascination, and sometimes quietly chatting about the powerful atmosphere and their contentment and happiness in seeing their favourite goddesses in a living form. “We try to create a peaceful and serene atmosphere through our act. One commentator is assigned with the job to make people understand the significance of true Navaratri and Shiv Shaktis. When I was about to perform for the first time in the live show, I was in doubt whether I could sit silently because my eyes were swelling after putting kajal. However, I made it possible thanks to my rigorous practise of Raja yoga and the blessings of Baba.”