Padmavati, adoringly called Padma, couldn’t withstand the painful sacrifice of the Aves. As the idol that broke the rain of tears, her heart also bled at that dawn. She tried her best to cast her bright humane light on the darkened souls but the masters of evil, the lawmakers, couldn’t stand and watch the protest of a teen towards the irrational rituals that had engulfed and blinded rational minds for years. She was made to pay back, pay for her stand. The sleek and sleazy worshippers took no time to shed their reptilian skins and come out in real forms. But the Goddess had a different plan, which was witnessed only by the silent Aves and the ineffectual idol that was being worshipped for a long time.
A worship meant to please a feminine strength of the underworld that had once destroyed the kingdom of a merchant. His seven sons were poisoned. Their palace was burned down. The luxuriant Saptadinga (a mythical decorated boat used by the rich merchants of Bengal) was drowned. All these happened to a Shaivite (devotee of Lord Shiva). The indefatigable toil of a bride to save her beloved, as narrated in the folklores, was for the sake of her recognition as a goddess. It also epitomised that women were always denied and dejected, be it on earth or the heavens.
That there were buckets of milk to administrator of poison was a mere gesture that nothing was of any use, without the sacrifice of the purest blood. It seemed as if the hunger for blood and flesh was far more overwhelming in the devotees than the adored deity. How could a mother feed on the blood of a sect of her innocent children? Unfortunately, this question would never again be voiced. The protest had been silenced forever.
That evening, before the village women went out to fetch holy water for worship, Padmavati sat on the mossy stairs of the bank and stared at the glowing red of the setting sun. What a beautiful site it was! The sky was clear and thin strips of clouds flew around to scatter unique hues of crimson red with golden yellow and serene blue. The herons flew like black birds to distant places. The ducks quacked on the calm river in unison. Reaching the bank, the ducks began shaking off the water and preening themselves. Poor birds! They were the offerings at the end of the worship and since ducks are not endangered species, nobody cared about them.
The earth was about to fall asleep in the darkness of night, a sound sleep to cover herself from the malicious extravaganza and show that was to begin that night.
Padma felt butterflies in her stomach. She was scared, anxious and sorry for herself. Her pet duck, Hari, was sold by her greedy father for his drinks and unfortunately, he was bought for the first sacrifice the following day at the Chatuti house. It was a dazzling white duck, the one seen in the portraits of the Snake Goddess. It was believed that she would be most pleased if offered a white duck. Padma resisted and opposed every single day with every possible way to prevent all this. But, she was helpless. Nobody had ever spoken a word against the most prosperous Chatutis. She was too small – in age, wisdom and status to oppose their power.
Any protest was equivalent to throwing an open challenge to their oppressive might. It was evening. The entire village was immersed in the festive mood. Women began blowing their conches and had adorned themselves in new clothes. They went to fetch the holy water.
The drummers beat their drums aloud in joy and happiness. The pavilion was set, embellished with lots of lights and flowers. After all, it was the famous Chatuti family’s ceremony. The idol was beautifully decorated with gold and silver, thick garland and a floral tiara. The Chatutis dressed in precious outfits. Who knew that night would seem endless!
As night fell, the village women returned with the water pots and placed those close to the altar. With great éclat, the festival began. The flower trays were arranged and the priests drew auspicious signs on the pots. They placed the water pots in front of the deity and began chanting the hymns in praise of the Goddess. Women were making lotus garlands. Men were busy distributing tokens for the orts of the Goddess and children were running around in gaiety. The adulation continued for the entire night as it intrigued excitement in the pupils.
It was about to be dawn when the rituals ended. It was time for the sacrificial ceremony to begin. All the devotees stood in queue with their offerings for the priests with a shining sharp chopper. The first offering was to be brought. Guards were ordered to bring the fair Aves after bathing those. But where was the duck? In the grandeur of events none had noticed when Hari went missing. Missing? How could a duck escape the eyes of so many people?
How did it get the power to untie the knot at its feet? Each and everyone understood that somebody had stolen her. But who? No one in the village had the guts to look at the eyes of the Chatuti family. Stealing their property was blasphemy, a big danger! Who else could it be? When the guards were bringing Hari, it was Padma who had opposed and rebuked them.
It was she who had threatened them of taking Hari back before dawn. So the culprit could be none other than Padma. The vital question was: Where was Padma? Obviously not at the temple but where could she hide? The Chatutis were seething in rage. So were the priests.
(To be continued)