Durga Ma vs. JK Rowling: mahishasura mardhini??

Durga from http://www.durga-puja.org/photo-gallery.html

In the most delicious of ironies and absurd of situations, JK Rowling is suing the organisers of a pandal in Kolkata for copyright infringement. Just like ConfusedofCalcutta (whose excellent blog is where I first saw the news, via Ashwin), I took a double took at the news.

For those unfamiliar with it (clearly Ms. Rowling and her associates), Durga Puja is far more than a religious occasion, though I notice that the organisers took that stance in their legal defence. It is a cultural extravaganza and a jamboree of collective spirit that sweeps up all those Bengali – by blood but far more by inclination – in its wake and deposits them gently, at the end of five days of fiesta and frolic, exhausted and weeping either for a glimpse of spirituality or a sorely-needed pick-me-up. Ah, bah. I can hardly describe it to those who haven’t experienced it, and to those who have, I hardly need describe it. A little like love.

But to continue: part of the collective creativity of the Puja is to compete fiercely (particularly in Kolkata’s neighbourhoods where every half-road has a puja) for the biggest and the brightest pandal/tent for the prothima or idol of Durga to rest in. The decorations for these can range from the sublime to the ridiculous, often touching upon the most political of issues, but sometimes merely the topical. As with Harry Potter this year.

Puja pandals often define and re-define public art and storytelling in Kolkata and elsewhere. How far can the validity of copyright stretch into absurd spaces of the real and unreal, stretched further across time? Can one claim, for instance, as someone pointed out on a maillist over this brouhaha, that Rowling is infringing copyright when she uses as a backdrop to the Potter series, European folklore and fantasy that may well have derived from ancient Indian stories that may equally well have been disseminated through the performances of and at the Puja pandal?

The organisers of the pandal are not quite bothering about these contestations and contradictions. Their battle is temporarily won; the Delhi High Court has given them permission to go ahead with the preparations (Puja this year is from October 17-21). For them, the ‘evil forces have been defeated by the grace of Ma Durga’: a telling comment on where JK Rowling began her artistic journey and where it is now stalling for lack of clarity, charity (in its widest sense) and generosity.

In all of this, I can only imagine Ma Durga smiling gently and amusedly. I hope she gets remembered in all of the excitement over Hogwarts. After all, her battle over Mahishasura is what I – and countless others – grew up on, and remember as the quintessential myth of good over evil. Far before Harry and Voldemort were even twinkles in Rowling’s creative eye.

Have a Happy Pujo, everyone.

Yã Devi Sarvabhooteshu Shantiroopena Samsthitã |
Namastasyayee, Namastasyayee, Namastasyayee Namo Namaha ||

(Image from http://www.durga-puja.org/photo-gallery.html)