Zaheeb Ajmal reports:
3 p.m.: I am at the Chandithan the oldest temple in Sargana. Outside the Chandithan, a mela (fair) to mark the ninth day of Dussehra (Navami) is on.
A canopy stretches over the temple backyard, under which items of female jewellery, such
as necklaces, bracelets and nose rings were being sold. Pradeep’s wife Shanti is here with
her daughter-in- law.
The open grounds outside the Chandithan, along the banks of the pond, are the site for the
Navami mela, the fair to mark the ninth day of Dussehra. Almost 60 motorcycles have been
parked along the mud path leading to the ground, and a row of stalls have been set up here
since the morning. Vendors at these stalls prepare and sell a variety of savoury snacks,
including samosas (pasties usually stuffed with mashed potatos and peas), chaat (a mix of
boiled chickpeas, diced boiled potatoes, yogurt and tamarind chutney, served with crisp
dough wafers) and gol gappas (a spherical hollow unleavened deep-fried bread made of
whole wheat flour, served with mint-flavoured water). Other vendors have also lined up their
carts of raw fruits and vegetables in the hope of increasing their sales at the fair: others retail
utensils and other items of use in the kitchen. Closer to the temple complex, vendors sell
clay idols of the goddess Durga. Right at the entrance, and occupying pride of place, were
the kiosks selling sweets: jalebis (spiral-shaped flour batter deep fried in boiling sugar
syrup), laddoos (sweet balls made of flour, minced dough and sugar), gaja (sweetened flour
cubes deep fried in oil), rasgulla (cottage cheese and semolina dumplings, cooked in light
sugar syrup) and barfi (square-shaped confectionary made of condensed milk and sugar)
among others. Stalls selling paan (betel leaves) are ubiquitous.
At least six hundred people are present at that moment, braving the untimely showers. It
appears that several thousands have attended the fair since the morning. Harish Rishi
wades through the crowd, looking out for potential trouble-makers: Harish is member of the
Gram Raksha Dal, a quasi-police force legally constituted by the Gram Panchayat.
Within the temple complex, but outside the actual temple building, approximately 70 adult
and kid-goats stand side by side, awaiting their turn at the sacrificial altar. Inside the
sanctum sanctorum of the temple, devotees offer routine prayers and gifts (including cash
donations) to the goddess Durga.
11 p.m.: I accompany our host Narendra Yadav to the Durga temple at Sargana. The Durga
temple is much more modest in comparison to the Chandithan, but it hosts a devotional
gathering (jagrata) this Navami night. About twenty people sit cross-legged on the floor,
while artistes render hymns invoking the power of the goddess Durga. My host tells me that
mostly members of the Kayasth and Rajput communities are here: in fact, he and I are the
only ones not from these communities to be here!