Today is 17th September, a day when the civil engineer, architect, planner and executor of massive construction projects of our 330 million gods, Vishwakarma is worshipped. Typically the Vishwakarma puja is celebrated every year on 17th September whereas the dates of puja of all other Hindu deities vary every year. I don’t know the reason but it has been so as I have experienced over the years.
The idea of this blog is not to remind people about this particular puja. This morning, while cleaning my car, I remembered the day. On this day, the tools are given rest, the labourers enjoy a holiday and worship the god very enthusiastically. I remembered my childhood days. I have grown up in a place dotted with coal mines. All the coal mines activities were supported by a workshop where you could find ironsmiths, carpenters, painters, electricians, automobile mechanics, sundry mechanics and operators (who were called in the local language as ‘khalasi’). All these people worked with certain tools inseparable from their vocation. On this day, they used to put down the tools to rest. The tools were cleaned, polished and given sundry treatment as an army man cleans his firearm or a soldier, in medieval days, sharpens his sword or spear. After such a treatment to the tools, these are placed at the feet of the idol of the deity and worshipped along with the god. The tools would not be touched for the day and only after the puja is over and the idol is immersed, the tools would be put to use again.
The entire function used to be conceptualized and managed by the workers. There was some grant from the coal mine owner to organize the function. Over and above, the workers used to collect ‘chanda’ (donation) from all other staff working in the coal mine apart from contributing to the kitty themselves. The workshop employees would erect the ‘pandal’ inside the workshop itself. The entire workshop would give a clean look and it would be beautifully decorated. Those days, the Chinese lighting was unknown. The decoration was mostly with colourful paper flags cut in a distinct way, a shape of a scalene triangle. These paper flags used to be glued with a rope using homemade glue – mostly from wheat flour. The entire atmosphere used to be festive. In those days of gramophone records, the festival was highly charged with the continuous blaring of the mike and nobody really minded the ear-shattering noise.
The workers took a special interest in this puja just because this festival was something on which they had complete control. The other festivals, like Durga Puja or Kali Puja, were in the domain of the upper class of people. In those festivals, they were mute spectators or at the most, helpers. However, the Vishwakarma Puja was entirely theirs. Right from organising each nuance of the puja to arranging funds to transporting the deity to decorate the place to arrange sweetmeats or a feast (if finances permit), everything was managed by them. The workers were managers and supervisors of this function in all respect. And they were good managers as far as the function was concerned as I don’t remember any untoward incident. They took pride in successful organisation of the function and encouraged in the act by their supervisors, mostly the engineer and the manager of the particular coal mine.
I do miss such festive atmosphere in the city I now live and definitely miss the ‘laddus’ that used to be distributed right after the puja and for which we, as young onlookers, loitering around the ‘pandal’, waited infinitely.